In times of crisis, the reproductive health and rights of women and girls are often neglected and, worse, threatened. The COVID- 19 pandemic can be regarded as an example of how much a crisis can negatively affect the reproductive health of women and girls. At the announcement of the lock-down, there was an immediate spread of panic buying which frankly was a luxury that only a certain group of people could afford. This led to an inevitable scarcity which in turn impacted the prices of everyday items like Sanitary pads. Beyond this, was also the reality of an average family in Nigeria, whose meal is dependent on their daily menial jobs or sales which was brought to an abrupt halt by the lock-down. it became more difficult for even those who could afford sanitary pads to purchase and girls from poor homes were unable to ask their parents for funds to purchase sanitary pads as there was very little thought given to it mainly because most people were more focused on the realities of providing for their families while they no longer had the liberty to go out and work.
Beyond the Classroom Foundation has been working in the area of reproductive health for over 7 years. Due to this, we received countless request for sanitary pads from girls in the Internally Displaced Person’s camps (IDP) in Abuja and other low income communities we work in. I have noticed that, post-disaster relief and recovery operations seldom focus on women’s priorities regarding menstrual hygiene. Governments and nonprofit respond to disaster majorly with food relief items and rarely remember to put in a sanitary pad for the women and girls. This goes to show how important these conversations are because it opens us up to the areas we have been ignoring and inadvertently failing at. In response to the coronavirus pandemic and to support the women and girls in the IDP camp, including the low income communities we work in, Beyond the Classroom Foundation raised $1,000 and distributed free disposable sanitary pads enough to last three months to 200 girls in Ijora Olopa, Lagos and Kabusa village in Abuja. In partnership with SanitaryAid Initiative and Abuja Global Shapers, the women and girls at the Karonmagiji IDP camp received 300 free reusable sanitary pads, 800 underpants and 500 face masks. Through another partnership with Socially Africa, participants of the Switch on Bootcamp designed the “Fund the Flow” project, raised over $4,000 for sanitary pads and we distributed three months’ supply of disposal sanitary pads to 1,000 women and girls in Langbasa, Okeira-nla, Bariga, Makoko and Ikeja Cantonment Lagos State.
Menstrual hygiene is not a luxury and it shouldn’t be in our communities. It simply should be allowed to be what it really is, which is a necessity. When women and girls who menstruate do not have the education or resources to manage their periods safely, they often resort to using unsafe materials like rags which can cause physical health challenges. Our Pad in A Pandemic drive is still on as we continue working tirelessly to ensure that women and girls in low income communities affected by the coronavirus can have access to adequate resources and information to help them manage their periods.
In Nigeria, stigma already stops women and girls who menstruate from talking openly about menstruation and sanitary pads which is why we have chosen to be their voice and our aim is to have this hard but necessary conversations so we can tackle these issues and provide lasting and effective solutions to them. In the Northern region for example, period poverty, which is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand-washing facilities, and waste management is high and this impacts greatly on the reproductive health of women and girls. I challenge nonprofits and the government to put menstrual hygiene at the heart of any emergency response in Nigeria. As we all can see, the pandemic put a halt on so many activities, but menstruation.