In light of the increasing difficulty that needy women and girls face in handling their monthly periods due to lack of access to sanitary products, an NGO has called on the Nigerian government to provide free sanitary pads for such women.
The Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE), an NGO that works with vulnerable children especially girls, made the call at a one-day conference in Lagos which drew about 250 children from 15 schools across Lagos and Ogun States as well as medical personnel, activists, teachers, journalists and others. The conference was held in collaboration with the NGO, Girls On A Mission (GOAM), Australia to mark the ‘International Menstrual Hygiene Day’ 2019.
Betty Abah, CEE-HOPE’s founder and Executive Director, in her opening comments said the conference would serve the double purpose of drawing attention of the government and other stakeholders to the difficulties that women and girls in prison, detention centres, in Internally Displaced (IDP) camps, those fleeing conflicts, those with mental health issues and those facing economic difficulties, face.
‘Before now period was regarded as a taboo topic but it is time to end the silence and put it in public burners this is something that affects millions of girls especially because we are going through a major economic depression and many families’ purchasing powers are down to zero. It’s time to ask questions such as ‘can sanitary pads be made more affordable for our women and girls? Can government help with tax reductions or even make it tax-free so that needy women can afford them? Can they be distributed free of charge as is being done already in other countries? She asked. According to her, the lack of money to purchase sanitary pads put many girls in very vulnerable situation which make them to be involved in contractual sex to get money to buy pads and many get infected in the process while many girls miss school when they are in their period and have no money to buy pads.
Abah also said the event was also sensitise the school girls on how to avoid rape since they are the ones mostly targeted for rape as well as provide career and motivational talks.
Doctor and Founder, Atayese Health Network and Bambo Hospital, Dr. Adeolu Olusodo, also buttressed the point that the issue of menstrual hygiene should be given more attention by government as women are at the centre of procreation and therefore most relevant in the sustainability of humankind. Dr Olusodo who also runs medical services for the ultra-poor in slum communities across Lagos lectured the students on the biology of menstrual cycle and how they can understand their cycle and report abnormalities.
Yinka Kenny, founder of the YinkaKenny Girls Care Foundation spoke on menstrual hygiene management. According to her, “Menstruation is a responsibility that nature has bestowed upon us, it cannot be avoided and we need to ensure we do our bit to stay healthy in order to avoid infections.” She also advocated for free sanitary pads for economically-disadvantaged women and girls, and like Oludodo, also took questions from several of the school girls.
Eminent rape crises management expert and Executive Director, Media Concern for Women and Children (MEDIACON), Dr. Princess Olufemi-Kayode, Executive Director, addressed the children on steps to take to avoid rape. She explained that once they attain puberty, they can be pregnant and urged them to ensure they avoid unprotected sex and rape.
Other guests who spoke included Meg Otanwa, a budding actress and gender rights advocate, Engineer David Olusegun, in-coming president of the Rotary Club of Gbagada- South, Lagos, Mrs. Sophie Mbanisi, an entrepreneurs, and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Founder of Healing Hearts Foundation, Venerable Okey Ifionu, a veteran journalist, clergy and Board of Trustees member of CEE-HOPE, Hon. Raphael Ikuyinminu, Speaker of the Lagos Children’s Parliament, Evelyn Osagie, an artiste and journalist with The Nation Newspaper and Tosin Olorunfemi, a child’s rights advocate and blogger.
While Otanwa who starred in a recent stage play about the abducted Chibok girls spoke about avoiding distractions and achieving greatness, Mrs. Mbanisi spoke to them on ‘being deliberate in life and succeeding intentionally’. Venerable Ifionu admonished them on being focused on accomplishing great things in life while having the fear of God while Miss Olorunfemi spoke to them on avoiding being sexually bullied or blackmailed by predators using online and social media platforms for ‘sex-texting’, a trend which have got many young persons’ lives complicated. She advised them to report such persons initially they start. Engineer Olusegun appreciated the good work of CEE-HOPE and promised that the club would partner with the NGO in future programs on menstrual hygiene and other initiatives aimed at uplifting young persons.
One of the participating students, Miss Priceless Onyegbuna, 15, an SS One student of Ijeshatedo Secondary School, Surulere, Lagos, said; ‘I learnt a lot from the program especially about menstrual cycles and how to be extra-neat during the period. I also learnt that women are extremely important in the continuity of creation. Auntie Evelyn also taught us how to socialise with other girls’.
The May 28 event was the second of such by CEE-HOPE, having held the first for 230 girls in Makoko slum in Lagos to mark that of last year. The menstrual hygiene day commemoration kick-started in 2014 to draw attention to the worrisome but often neglected issue worldwide. Hygiene experts worldwide agree that millions of women battle with managing their menstruation globally due to low purchasing power and it is a major factor for continuing inequality as many girls stay away from school during their periods being unable to cope with lack of access to pads during the period while women and girls get involved in sex exchange to access fund to manage it. Providing sanitary products to women and advocacy for free products has also become the pet project for Meghan Markel, wife of Prince Harry of England, to underscore the seriousness of the issue.
‘If government agencies and corporations can give condom to people for free, why can’t they give sanitary products for free? Sex is a choice except in cases of rape but menstruation is never a choice for women and girls in their reproductive years, so this is an issue we can’t afford to keep over-looking’ said Abah.