Why is something as simple as a sanitary pad a vital part of women’s health?
Why is it a social justice issue as well? Why are sanitary pads still inaccessible to a majority of women and girls?
Menstruation is an inevitable part of most women’s lives. The average woman would observe menstruation every month of her life for approximately 35 years. Thus, over this period the average woman would go through more or less 20000 sanitary pads.
Considering these implications, the economic costs for the average woman/adolescent are staggering especially in low-income countries in Africa.
Menstrual cycles are tied to reproductive health as well as other aspects of women’s health. With menstruation comes menstrual practices, and a key part of good health for women is hygienic menstrual practices. This is an issue that fails to receive proper attention.
Hygienic menstrual practices include the use of sanitary pads during menstrual flows. Sadly, most women and adolescent girls are unable to have access to these essential products that will help maintain their menstrual health either because they are too expensive or they are unavailable, especially in rural areas in countries in Africa.
between 31 and 56% of Nigerian schoolgirls use toilet tissue or cloth for menstruation…
studies have linked improper and unhygienic menstrual practices to reproductive tract infections, urinary tract infections (UTI)
They are therefore forced to resort to unhygienic menstrual practices. Unhygienic menstrual practices include the use of tissue paper, newspaper, rags, cotton-wool, and even the use of damaged reusable absorbent pads.
According to Upashe & Mekonnen (2015), studies in Africa have found that the use of sanitary pads is as low as 18% in Tanzania and that between 31 and 56% of Nigerian schoolgirls use toilet tissue or cloth for menstruation and very few who use clothes change their clothes/rags.
This is alarming.
It is alarming because various studies have linked improper and unhygienic menstrual practices to reproductive tract infections, urinary tract infections (UTI), urogenital and other vaginal diseases as well as poor psychosocial outcomes.
Upashe & Mekonnen (2015), point out that reproductive tract infections are a major public health concern, especially in low-income settings. Linked to poor menstrual hygienic practices are reproductive tract infections such as Bacterial vaginosis, Vulvovaginal candidiasis, and Trichomoniasis.
Some of these reproductive infections are linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes, a higher predisposition to the acquisition of sexually transmitted infections (STI), infertility, low birth weight as well as a pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) among others.
What is even more disturbing is that these reproductive tract infections are sometimes asymptomatic, and the damaged can be long done before the victim is aware.
Studies have observed that women of menstruating age with UTIs and reproductive tract infections were more likely to use clothes, rags, tissues, or damaged reusable pads as compared to sanitary pads. Upashe & Mekonnen (2015), proved in their study the link between poor menstrual hygiene and lower reproductive tract infections: Bacterial vaginosis and Candida albicans infections.
Women’s health needs to ensure that hygienic menstrual practices can be observed and that women have easy access to sanitary pads. Now in affluent countries, access to sanitary pads and other appropriate forms of menstrual management may be taken for granted.
However, access to sanitary pads in underdeveloped low-income countries in Africa is a major problem for a lot of women and adolescent girls. And obviously, this does not bode well for the wellbeing especially reproductive health for these women and girls who lack access to sanitary pads.
And the kicker is, these countries in Africa have underdeveloped and overwhelmed healthcare management systems. This means that women and girls who contract reproductive infections for the most part might be unable to get access to healthcare to treat themselves.
Kuhlmann, Henry, and Wall (2017) note that many school-based studies indicate poorer menstrual hygiene among girls in rural areas and those attending public schools. This is because people in rural areas and those who attend public schools are usually not of the affluent class.
In such countries, the use of sanitary pads is more common among women and adolescent girls in the middle or upper class of which only a minority belongs.
studies have shown that the percentage of adolescent girls who are forced to be absent from school range from 50-75%
…..those who do not use sanitary pads being 5 times more likely to be absent than those who use sanitary pads
Another consequence of lack of access to sanitary pads for adolescent girls is missing school. When adolescent girls are on their periods, what they use often causes leakage and so they must be absent from school which interrupts their education.
This is occurring in regions where girl education is already a problem. Kuhlmann, Henry, and Wall (2017) observed that various studies have shown that the percentage of girls who are forced to be absent from school range from 50-75% with those who do not use sanitary pads being 5 times more likely to be absent than those who use sanitary pads.
A lot of times, this absenteeism often leads to girls leaving school altogether. The use of these poor options often also causes psychological and emotional distress for women in addition to certain cultural practices surrounding a woman’s menstruation.
Another alarming consequence is that the unavailability of sanitary pads, quite shockingly, causes women and girls to engage in risky sexual behavior. Kuhlmann, Henry, and Wall (2017) report that in some cases, girls have exchanged sex for money just to be able to purchase sanitary products. And this can become an easy segue into prostitution and being victims of human trafficking. All from lack of access to sanitary pads.
It has become obvious that access to sanitary pads for women is as much a social justice issue as it is a health issue. There are so many poor outcomes for women and adolescent girls who are unable to have access to sanitary pads and other hygienic menstrual practices. These poor outcomes range from psychological, social, as well as the health of women and adolescent girls.
It is saddening that something taken for granted, can lead to harmful outcomes resulting in irreversible damage in the lives of women and adolescent girls. Interventions should be undertaken either by governmental authorities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private bodies, etc. in a way to make sanitary pads, as well as hygienic menstrual practices accessible to adolescent girls and women in all income settings.
This can come in the form of government subsidizing companies that produce sanitary pads so they can be easily accessible and can become an essential service provided by the government to women and adolescent girls in low-income settings. Private bodies and NGOs can help by donating sanitary pads to women and adolescent girls in low-income settings.
EOF recognizes that this is an essential need for young Nigerian adolescent girls and women…
they do is provide the poorest communities quarterly with sanitary pads…
This is where the Emmanuel Osemota Foundation (EOF) comes in. EOF recognizes that this is an essential need for young Nigerian adolescent girls and women. They have come to realize that in the poorest parts of Nigeria, adolescent girls and women cannot afford to buy sanitary pads. They have also observed how this leads to absenteeism in school and how this negatively impacts their education.
This is a country where low rates of girl education are already a huge issue. Therefore, through a branch of their foundation called Aghore Rewards, they strive to do something about this.
The Aghore Rewards, branch of the Emmanuel Osemota Foundation also recognizes that menstrual periods are still seen as a cultural taboo. They also note that when girls do not have sanitary pads and suffer a leak in school, they often feel ashamed leading to poor psychosocial outcomes.
So, what they do is provide the poorest communities quarterly with sanitary pads. They provide sanitary pads to the less privileged girls in the local community.
They do this….
They do this to protect the health and dignity of the girl child. They do this to ensure that the girl child can stay in school so that the cycle of poverty can be broken. They do this to ensure that her reproductive health does not have to be affected by wrong and harmful menstrual practices.
They do this so that the girl child does not have to suffer urogenital diseases. They do this so that the girl child does not have to suffer poor psychosocial outcomes as a result of lack of access to sanitary pads.
They do this so that the girl child does not have to suffer exploitation or worse trafficking all for something as simple as access to sanitary pads. They also ensure that they educate girls about menstrual cycles and women’s health so that they can be aware of safe menstrual practices.
The Emmanuel Osemota Foundation recognizes that the long-term impact of something as simple as the provision of sanitary pads and menstrual health education cannot be overemphasized. EOF knows that this is both a social justice issue and a health issue for girls and women.
It’s amazing how something as simple as the provision of sanitary pads affects positively the education of the girl child, a social justice issue. It’s amazing how positive outcomes in the education of the girl child affect future generations by breaking the cycle of poverty.
Through the education of girls and communities on menstrual cycles by the EOF, local communities can learn to discuss menstrual cycles without it being seen as a taboo or something to be ashamed of.
Through all these efforts, EOF hopes to find ways for local communities to have access to menstrual health and sanitation for themselves and others.
The EOF being a non-governmental organization and a not-for-profit organization relies on the donations made by foundation members, supporters, and partners. But that can only go a little way. This is why the Emmanuel Osemota Foundation appeals to the good conscience of members of the public for donations.
Any donation amount will be helpful and will go a long way in helping less privileged adolescent girls and women have sanitary pads. Further details on how to donate can be found here: Give Today.
Please when you donate, you are donating to the wellbeing of women and the future of the girl child. You are helping her stay healthy. You are preserving her dignity. You are giving her better psychosocial outcomes. You are preventing her from suffering exploitation or trafficking. So, please donate.
Written by: Amen Ahabue, Creative Writer for EOF
Upashe, S.P., Tekelab, T. & Mekonnen, J. Assessment of knowledge and practice of menstrual hygiene among high school girls in Western Ethiopia. BMC Women’s Health 15, 84 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12905-015-0245-7
Kuhlmann AS, Henry K, Wall LL. Menstrual Hygiene Management in Resource-Poor Countries. Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2017 Jun;72(6):356-376. doi: 10.1097/OGX.0000000000000443. PMID: 28661550; PMCID: PMC5482567.