Menstruation is a natural biological process that is meant to dignify women and girls around the world. Unfortunately, it is otherwise in many parts of the world subject of ridicule, surrounded by myths and in rare actually cases, the cause of death of adolescent girls. Some see it as an unclean act that should be avoided, others see it as a process that should be performed in secrecy. The culture that sees it as such, often completely excludes women from social and religious activities.
In many parts of Nigeria, menstruation is a taboo word, shrouded in secrecy. Many girls and women believed that this aspect of their life should not be spoken about in public, or shared with anyone. This culture of stigma around menstruation ment hundreds of thousands, if not millions of girls confused and have no one to turn to for guidance.
Girls from poorer backgrounds are worst hit because most of the time, they are not able to talk about menstruation to anyone, and they cannot afford to buy menstrual pads when they get to that age. They simply dropped out of school. Bolu Olorunfemi is one of the leading advocates for sustainable menstrual hygiene management education in Nigeria. Her initiative called SuS Pads for short includes an element of training girls to sew their own reusable menstrual pads.
What brought about the SuS Pads initiative
The idea for SuS pads initiatIve was born when I was a volunteer menstrual hygiene facilitator with Hope Spring Water. After each workshop, we give each of the girls some disposable sanitary pads, which is usually donated by some generous donors and disposable sanitary pads manufacturers. One day we were reflecting on our workshops, we noticed that we were only solving the problem temporarily.
Once the disposable pads we gave the girls run out, unable to afford to buy them, they go back to using unhygienic materials. This led to the idea of teaching the girls how to make their own reusable menstrual pads.
When did the project begin?
We ran our first workshop late last year. We trained about 20 girls and a few women on how to make their own reusable menstrual pads. The participants were also gifted the materials and equipment to make their own pads in a kit bag. We recon the pad each person made on the day and the material in the kit bag can potentially keep a girl in pads for between 2-3 years, if not longer.
How many Training have you done so far
We have run two workshops so far. We have about six or so more planned for this year. But if we are lucky to find sponsorship, potentially, we can run up to twelve workshops in 2020. We have all the volunteers we need.
Which set of girls and women do you train or work with?
We concentrated more on the less privileged communities. We believe in reaching out to the girls and women who are in dire need and affected by period poverty. The girls who can’t afford a disposable pad. That is where the idea of training girls and women in public schools and rural communities came into play
Why do you think a reusable pad is better than a disposable pad?
According to many sources, plastic found in disposable menstrual hygiene products is the 5th most common plastic pollutant found in oceans, that reason on it’s own, it is strong enough for most people to consider switching to reusable pads.
Secondly, reusable pads are a lot cheaper than disposable pads. Most of them, depending on the material used can last a girl/woman many years. You just need to look after it well. This makes it a better choice for the girls we work with. It is much kinder to the environment when it goes head-head with disposable pads.
How do you measure your success?
The success of our workshop and training is measured by the numbers of people, positively impacted. We are even considering measuring the number of people who benefit indirectly from our training. Every workshop we ran so far, the girls are always excited about teaching their new skills to their sisters, mother and friends. We are working on a plan to start measuring absenteeism/drop-out figures, before and after our workshops.
The challenges you faced in your initial workshop?
The greatest challenge we faced was getting the permission we need from the Universal Basic Education Board. One of our team members went there over and over but no definite response from them. This held back the date selected for our first project and affected our planning. We hope UBEB can improve on their response to issues that are of high importance to vulnerable girls under their care.
What are Your plans for 2020
We intend to impact more girls and expand our reach by trying to reduce school absenteeism during menstruation. We love to see these girls complete their education and have a brighter future. When a girl has the right knowledge the nation and the world becomes better
What is your advice to younger girls
Menstruation is a natural biological process, it’s not unclean. You need to love yourself and be confident. You can become what you want to be in life, acquire the necessary skills and nothing can stop you.