We all have our ‘period’ stories. For some of us, we started out with sanitary cloths, wrappers, napkins and eventually pads. For some, they started using pads from the first day they saw their period. But not every girl is that lucky.

Statistics has it that about 1.2 billion women and girls across the world do not have access to menstrual hygiene products. To manage their menses, these unfortunate women and girls either isolate themselves at home (some cultures even have huts detached from the home where girls stay during their menses), use unsafe, unhygienic and unsanitary improvisations like leaves, rags, old clothes and wrappers, pieces of cloths and what-have-you.

Just in case you are at loss on what ‘period’ is, let me enlighten you.

Period is another word for menstruation which refers to normal vaginal bleeding that occurs as part of a woman’s monthly cycle. A woman’s body prepares for pregnancy every month, and if no pregnancy occurs, the uterus, or womb, sheds its lining. The menstrual blood is partly blood and partly tissue from inside the uterus.

So, what is period poverty?

Period poverty refers to inadequate access to good menstrual hygiene management and education, which encompasses sanitary products to absorb the flow of blood, washing facilities to change menstrual materials and wash, and waste disposal to properly dispose of used menstrual materials.

The burden of period poverty

1. Widespread illiteracy of the womenfolk

Research has shown that 1 in 10 African girls miss school because of period poverty. This partly explains why the illiteracy level of women in Nigeria was at level of 61.9 % as at 2018.

Due to lack of access to sanitary products, many girls resort to unhygienic materials like old wrappers, tissues, foams, newspapers, even leaves. The materials are susceptible to leaks, and as such, cause these girls to miss school, even sometimes, their examinations. This reflects poorly on their performance and sometimes lead to them dropping out of school. Little wonder girls make up 60% of the 10.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria, according to 2013 National Democracy and Health Survey.

2. Reduction of productivity and social participation of women

Asides the inadequate access to sanitary products, lack of access to clean washing facilities in schools, workplaces and social institutions contribute to period poverty.

Schoolgirls are discouraged from attending school during their period so as to avoid the discomfort of changing their menstrual materials in dirty washrooms. Some of them even prefer to carry their menstrual materials for long resulting into embarrassment from blood stains. This amounts to distraction and underperformance.

Working women may not be permitted to miss work on account of inadequate washrooms, but they will be uncomfortable, anxious and always conscious of blood stains; thereby reducing their productivity.

Also, it reduces the social participation and engagement of women in social and religious gatherings, and activities, further reinforcing the myth that men are more socially active than women.

3. Continuous discrimination of women and girls

It has been known that some cultures and religions isolate girls and women when they are menstruating; they are not allowed to touch food or attend religious gatherings. Women are regarded as unclean and unholy and are confined to a detached room or hut until their period is over. These practices are predicated on the foul smell and sight resulting from a lack of menstrual hygiene management. As far as period poverty continues to exist, women and girls in such communities will never rise from discrimination.

In such communities, when a girl starts seeing her period, she is deemed sexually mature and becomes a target of sexual harassment and abuse. Most girls don’t finish their primary education before being married off to, most times, men old enough to be their father.

4. Susceptibility to Infection and other health complications

Period poverty forces women and girls to use unhealthy practices which are detrimental to their health. The use of rags, unsterilised clothing, wrapper, tissue etc. exposes them to disease-causing bacteria. Also, when they make use of inadequate public washrooms, they are exposed to germs. It has been known that some poor teenage girls give transactional sex to afford sanitary products; they could contract a disease in the process.

These exposures can result in serious complications to a woman’s reproductive health, for example, endometriosis; an infection of the lining of the womb. Such infection can result in pelvic inflammatory diseases which causes discomfort, vaginal discharge, pain, vaginal discharge, tube blockages, barrenness and other fatal health complications. The situation is particularly dire for women and girls in prisons, camps and war-torn countries.

And as you know, lack of proper waste management for the disposal of used sanitary products can also create an environment for germs and diseases to thrive in impoverished communities.

Period poverty also has psychological and emotional overtone. For some, it is a cause of depression, irritation and sadness. For another, it erodes their self-confidence and esteem, resulting in an inferiority complex.

What to Do

1. Removal of tax on pads

Sanitary products cost a fortune, about $1.30 for a pack. Taking into cognisance that 44% of Nigerians make less than $1.90 per day, it is an expensive luxury that poor women and girls cannot afford. Therefore, the Nigerian government should follow in the shoes of the Kenyan government and remove tax on sanitary products to make them more affordable to impoverished communities.

2. Provision of free sanitary products

Contraceptives/condoms are distributed free of charge by government-funded organisations and health groups. I consider this a misplacement of priority.


Well, sex is a choice. Anyone who decides to have sex should shoulder the financial responsibility of getting contraceptives for him/herself. But, on the other hand, menstruation is a basic reality of womanhood. Access to menstrual hygiene management should be treated as a basic human right for every woman and girl.

Therefore, the government at all levels should support and fund more menstrual hygiene management initiatives than condom-donating ones.

3. Awareness of period poverty

Despite the burden of period poverty, there is little awareness about it locally and globally. Menstruation is usually discussed in hushed tones and behind closed doors so that the menfolk don’t hear about it.

This is wrong.

If we must demystify the stigma attached to menstruation, it is imperative to embark on grassroots awareness and sensitisation campaigns on menstruation and menstrual hygiene management.

Everyone should be aware of it; fathers, husbands, brothers, male colleagues and counterparts.

4. Menstrual education for young girls

It is despicable that most teenage girls only learn about menstruation when they first experience it. As a result, they are not mentally prepared or equipped with relevant knowledge on managing it.

This is a clarion call to mothers, teachers, INGOs and NGOs to initiate programmes to educate and inform young girls on how their body works, lecture them on menstruation and equip them with relevant knowledge for menstrual hygiene management.

5. Affordable and sustainable sanitary products

In the last decade, there has been an awareness of the advantages of reusable pads; they are cost-effective and, as the name suggests, reusable.

Concerned NGOs and INGOs should reach impoverished and underserved communities and train them on how to produce reusable pads using locally sourced materials. It will go a long way to reduce period poverty in poor communities.

Menstrual cups are another affordable sanitary product that is affordable and can be reused many times. Menstrual cups are easy to maintain and especially beneficial to women who suffer menstrual cramps and have a heavy flow. If possible, free menstrual cups should be donated to poor women and girls in place of sanitary pads because they can last for about 3 years.

6. Provision of menstrual hygiene facilities

Schools, offices and social institutions should be mandated by a government policy to provide adequate, gender-exclusive washrooms with enough supply of soap and water. This will ensure that women and girls are able to tend to their sanitary needs comfortably without fear of infection.

What we do at DO

The Monthly Visitor Project by DO is a sensitization workshop to teach adolescent girls how to make their own reusable sanitary pads in rural and semi-rural communities. Here at DO-Take Action, our Grassroots Development Champions (GDCs) carry out these workshops in their respective communities to educate women and girls on menstruation and safe menstrual practices and teach them how to make reusable pads.

What is your response to period poverty in Nigeria?

Become a Grassroots Development Champion (GDC) today and take action to eradicate period poverty in your community.

To become a Grassroots Development Champion, click here.

To partner with us or sponsor Pad Project in your community, click here.