September 7, 2019

Emulate Kenya, end ‘period poverty’ among schoolgirls in Nigeria — Activists to govt

Adolescent girls decry gender-based violence, demand reproductive health rights

By Josephine Agbonkhese

A 2016 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, report estimates that one in 10 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa is absent from school during their menstrual cycle.

This translates to an average of four days of absenteeism in 28 days; that is one month. In a single school term, this means 12 days. For each academic year, this translates to losing about six weeks of learning.

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While diverse reasons abound for this absenteeism, monthly periods, UNESCO says, play a major role. According to the international body, this is as, in some cases, girls simply do not have access to sanitary products while in others, they suffer discrimination and stigma while menstruating. In many other cases, the lack of educational resource on safe sanitary hygiene practices plays a huge role.

With girls already constituting over 60 per cent of Nigeria’s 13.6 million out-of-school children, having more girls lose out on six weeks of the academic calendar leaves so much to worry about. This is due to the risk of lagging behind in their studies and even eventually dropping out of school.

While measures are already in top gear in many countries within Sub-Sahara to address this problem popularly described as “period poverty”, with Kenya following suit about two months ago when it passed a new law which entitles schoolgirls of puberty age to free sanitary towels from the government, Nigeria, which is home to the world’s largest number of out-of-school girls, seems to be relenting.

It is on this premise that women’s rights activists are calling on government at all levels to help minimise absenteeism among schoolgirls to put them at par with their male counterparts.

Speaking to Woman’s Own, Bose Ironsi, Executive Director, Women’s Rights and Health Projects, WRAHP, decried that most girls had contracted diseases due to lack of unsafe, hygienic sanitary practices during menstruation.

She said:    “What President Uhuru Kenyatta did; placing the responsibility of providing free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels to every girl child of puberty age attending public institution, on the government, and also compelling the provision of a safe and environmentally sound mechanism for disposal of sanitary towel, is a good way to keep more girls in school.

“That is a law that has a human rights face and it is something our government should emulate because you can imagine young girls having to stay out of school because of monthly flow. Really, lack of sound education has great impact on the development of any country.

“This is part of women’s reproductive health and rights. In fact, most young girls have contracted infections trying to use unhygienic products during their monthly flow, which is not within their control. Majority of girls have been forced into early marriage due to inability to meet basic needs such as sanitary pads.

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“Resources spent on frivolous things by government can be channeled into meeting the needs of girls. We have heard of several amount of money stolen by government and politicians; such resources can be channeled wisely. Our government needs to show more concern about the well-being of Nigerian girls. “

On her part, Eqy Anazonwu, Coordinator of National Assembly-based Gender Technical Unit, said the reality is that many girls miss school examinations due to menstruation.

“With free pads and the right environment, more women will be empowered to attend school instead of skipping the days when they are on their periods. Some even skip examinations. Most indigent people, especially at the grassroots, cannot afford pads for their girls. It is a sad reality!

“As a matter of urgency, government should implement a policy through the Ministries of Health and Education to address this for girls of puberty age in primary and secondary schools. This is because some girls start menstruating between ages 7-10. Our government can afford this if it makes it a priority.”