NIGERIA: Here's How to Address Menstrual Poverty



Jefiter Mang shares how she helps girls in her community — including her daughters — have healthy, safe, shame-free periods. 

“I look forward to that day when the menstruation conversation is normalized, when access to clean, safe places are abundant, and menstrual sanitary products are cheap and easy to buy.”

—Jefiter Mang

I hated having to menstruate. I first heard the word “menstruation” when I was 11. I knew as much as a restless 11-year-old could garner from a compassionless nurse the school brought to teach the topic. But the night it came when I was 13 left me confused. I didn't know what to do but wash myself as the bleeding kept coming.

I hated the stickiness, the itchiness, and how I felt dirty. The painful cramps were something else. I followed the traditional tendency to conceal my menarche. I had to travel to school the next day and I still don't know how I was saved from the embarrassment of period stains without a pad. 

I guess I didn't pay close attention to the nurse to know what to do about my bloody mess. The bloody mess, that was the name I gave my monthly visitor. I prayed to God to take away those visits I detested so much. Boy, was I glad when it didn't come, when it skipped a month or two until becoming regular again.

Because I didn't tell my parents about it, I had to get pads for myself from the little pocket money I was given to help me get the things I needed while away from home. I often had to use tissue paper when I couldn't buy sanitary products. Of course, that meant I stained my clothes many times.

A friend or two shared pads with me on some occasions. One of the great memories I have of my girlfriends is how we looked out for each other. If we had to stand up in class or in public, and one of us was menstruating, the one having her period stood up last while the others checked to see if she was stained. If she was, we quickly fixed the problem by either giving her a cardigan to tie around her waist or getting her a pad. 

I had cramps during my periods but couldn't take any pain reliever because I was told that it was wrong. Taking it would mean I was weak  –– that I could become infertile from using drugs. Thank God, years later, my dad would give me mild pain relievers to help me. 

Many girls are still kept back by menstrual myths and restrictions caused by culture and religion. Many of them miss school because they can't afford menstrual sanitary products. They are seen as unclean and are not supposed to mingle with people during their periods. 

By the time my mum knew I was menstruating, many waters had passed under that bridge. Through books, I learned more about my body and what was happening to me. I started to build my confidence and be the bubbly girl I was again.

Today, having had three daughters, I can only be grateful for menstruating, or else how would I have been able to birth them? Something I had detested so much was all part of the process of giving me these beautiful little humans. 

I also see that it would have been less challenging if I had guidance and support from my parents or some adult. I depended on the little my friends and I knew. We were ill-informed. A girl or two among us even believed that to stop menstrual cramps, one needed to have sex with at least five men. I don't blame my mom for not giving me the menstrual education I needed. Now I understand that she, too, was a victim of the menstrual silence culture. 

My first daughter, who is 12, started menstruating a year ago. She had cleaned up herself and put on a pad before telling me. I hugged her and said, "my baby is growing up.” I taught her to know her menstrual cycle. She is armed with a pad when it is near, and she carries an extra just in case a friend might need one. Her younger sisters already know what they should do whenever it comes. I look forward to those times because it strengthens our mother-daughter bond.

To commemorate Menstrual Health Day 2022, I talked with 40 girls in a school. It was an engaging time as myriad questions poured out. It tells me the conversation must be had as many times as possible until every girl has her questions answered –– until girls know what to do to have healthy and safe periods without shame or stigma.

Menstrual poverty is still happening, especially with the inflation of prices. Taxes have not been cut down to make menstrual products cheaper. The government and many NGOs would rather give out condoms for free to young people, but will not do anything to help make menstruating not such a horrible ordeal for young girls.

Girls should not have to feel awkward when they inquire about what is happening to them. It is a normal part of life, after all. I look forward to that day when the menstruation conversation is normalized, when access to clean, safe places are abundant, and menstrual sanitary products are cheap and easy to buy. I commit to doing my part in educating girls on menstruation and providing reusable pads to end menstrual poverty. There are more grounds to cover, and we are moving.

STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of World Pulse's Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

Like this story?
Join World Pulse now to read more inspiring stories and connect with women speaking out across the globe!
Leave a supportive comment to encourage this author
Tell your own story
Explore more stories on topics you care about