Lolo Cynthia
Period poverty means a woman or girl is unable to afford period products. In the African continent, more than 800 million women and girls menstruate each day, but 500 million of those women do not have access to sanitary pads. As a result, in some places in the world, girls manage their periods with used rags, sand, tree bark and other unsanitary practices, leading to reproductive or urinary tract infections. This issue is prevalent in Nigeria as well, although public health specialist Lolo Cynthia is making a difference by providing health education to girls and helping them make their own cloth pads.

Period Poverty in Nigeria

Period poverty is a global issue that greatly impacts women in Nigeria, where women receive heavy taxes on menstrual products. A pack of sanitary pads costs $1.30. However, 44% of Nigerians live in extreme poverty and earn less than $1.90 per day. Inability to pay for sanitary pads places strain on finances and the physical and mental health of Nigerian women. This, in turn, leads to high anxiety and stress during menstruation.

Period Poverty in Nigerian Schools

According to the United Nations Children Fund, many schoolgirls in Nigeria view menstruation as a secretive and shameful experience. They associate it with experiencing anxiety, abdominal pain, cramps, nausea and vomiting, impacting their school work. One in 10 girls in Nigeria miss school due to their periods, and Nigeria’s conservative approach to menstruation discourages conversations about improving this issue.

Lolo Cynthia

A public health specialist named Lolo Cynthia, who taught 250 girls in southwest Nigeria how to make their own reusable menstrual pads from linens and cloth at a summer camp, is combatting the issue. Lolo Cynthia was born and raised in Lagos and later moved to South Africa to continue her studies. She earned degrees from Monash University at the age of 19 in public health and sciences and HIV/AIDS and health management. Lolo then worked at Nigeria’s Rave TV, where she discussed politics and lifestyles. Later, she worked on a documentary focusing on street children’s lives, drug abuse and other issues impacting women in Nigeria.

Lolo always had a passion for sexual health and social inequality, and she reveals these passions through her work on LoloTalks and MyBodyIsMine. Lolo’s efforts, which receive support from the first lady of Nigeria’s Ondo state Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, allow her to work with LoloTalks to discuss menstruation and sexual health. While she was hosting her podcast and working on LoloTalks and education program, MyBodyIsMine, she also started the NoDayOff campaign. It distributed 1,000 pads to women and girls in Lagos. Through this campaign, she quickly realized the need for a more sustainable option for women to use during menstruation. Lolo’s eco-friendly pads create an opportunity for women to control their periods and sexual health sustainably.

Benefits of Cloth Pads

Nigerian girls learning the skills to make their own pads can benefit their sexual health. Moreover, it can help them prepare for menstruation every month. The benefits of pads are:

  1. They are Affordable: Using cloth pads is very beneficial, especially when fighting against period poverty. Cloth pads are more affordable and can last for up to five years or longer than other types of pads and menstrual products.
  2. Cloth Pads are Better for the Body: Most disposable pads comprise harmful chemicals. These chemicals can negatively impact the sensitive area of the body where women place them. Cloth pads involve safe material that is chemical-free.
  3. Cloth Pads Increase Preparation: Using cloth pads also guarantees that women are ready for their cycle. Additionally, it reduces the chances that women and girls will reuse pads and tampons, which can pose health risks.

Lolo Cynthia’s work has received global recognition and may have an impact on how Nigeria approaches women’s bodies and health. The fight to reduce period poverty in Nigeria is only beginning.

Nyelah Mitchell
Photo: Flickr

The Plight of Period Poverty in Nigeria
Period poverty occurs when someone cannot afford proper menstrual hygiene products, including tampons and sanitary pads. Health experts have labeled period poverty as the cause of why students, girls in particular, routinely miss school. Approximately 1.2 billion women across the world do not have sufficient access to these menstruation sanitation products. This typically leads to unhygienic practices, like using rough newspapers or cloth napkins in place of pads. According to reports by UNICEF, one in 10 African girls miss school due to their periods. This is akin to about 20 percent of a school year. Nigeria also places a heavy tax on menstrual products, with a pack of pads costing around $1.30. People who are facing extreme poverty, approximately 44% of the population, make less than $1.90 per day. Here is more information about period poverty in Nigeria.

Period Poverty in Nigeria

Period poverty in Nigeria has received little attention, but due to firsthand encounters with schoolgirls who struggle to make ends meet between school and their menstrual hygiene, more initiatives have sprung forward. In a conservative country where discussions on menstrual health are often taboo, these measures are important to start eliminating barriers to quality menstrual hygiene.

In March 2018, Ashley Lori, a health activist, began her advocacy efforts when she witnessed the impact of period poverty in Nigeria. She formed an advocacy campaign that focuses on three primary aspects: advocacy, sensitization and support programs. She developed and supported various efforts like the #1millionpadscampaign, Cover Her Stain campaign and Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28. The campaign has distributed sanitary pads to secondary students in the city of Abuja and other rural areas.

Menstrual Health Education

UNICEF developed the Menstrual Health Management (MHM) program based on its research in 2017. The program is an initiative to teach women and adolescent girls how to use “clean menstrual management material” to absorb menstrual blood and to provide access to readily available facilities to dispose of the menstrual material.

In August 2019, public health specialist and sexuality health educator Lolo Cynthia traveled to southwest Nigeria to teach students how to sew their own reusable sanitary pads. The material comprises linen and cloth and each teenager was able to take home two reusable pads and additional materials to make more. This reusable pad initiative sparked a wave of discourse surrounding sexual health. Cynthia, the founder of social enterprise LoloTalks and a UNHCR Nigerian influencer, is from Lagos, Nigeria, where she witnessed the necessity to empower these communities with sexual education firsthand.

In her NoDayOff campaign, Cynthia focused on access, awareness and affordability to alleviate period poverty. In August 2019, the campaign allocated more than 1,000 disposable menstrual pads in Lagos’ Festac Town. It was difficult to receive financial backing for her campaign, but eventually, the First Lady of Ondo, Betty Anyawu-Akeredolu, offered support. These organizations also petition for the government to take on the civic responsibility of reducing taxes or providing greater accessibility to sanitary pads.

Sanitation Initiatives

Other aid efforts include a sanitation initiative that Hope Springs Water developed. This organization emerged in Athens, Texas to increase access to drinking water and sanitation for the world’s poor. It also teaches schoolgirls how to make their own menstrual pads from sustainable fabrics. The project, SuS Pads, intends to help women make their own menstruation pads with sustainable fabrics. The organization hosted menstrual hygiene workshops, where schoolgirls learned about disposable pads and the importance of menstrual health.

Empowering women to make their own reusable pads not only improves sanitary conditions but also serves as an economic vehicle that can fuel more household income. It is an effective avenue for women to create their own businesses and profit from making their own reusable pads. There are many countries that are taking steps in alleviating the financial burden of affording menstrual products. This includes Kenya’s implementation of a historic law in 2018 that would hand out more than 140 million pads to girls in its public schools. This will eventually boost girls’ education and give access to sanitary pads to 4.2 million girls in the country. Global support channels more awareness on the issue of not only period poverty in Nigeria but in other regions as well, which helps fight the plight of global poverty.

Brittany Adames
Photo: Wikimedia Commons