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It is disturbing to see that millions of young girls and women deal with a constant, yet frequently disregarded, challenge: Period Poverty. Period poverty is defined as a lack of access to period hygiene products, education, and sanitary facilities, which may adversely affect a person's general well-being, dignity, and opportunities.

Period poverty is not only about making a case for cleanliness or poverty; it is also a problem that affects human rights and social justice.

The good news is that our work at Safety For Every Girl in combating period poverty perfectly complements some of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and we are constantly working assiduously with partners and funders who are interested in supporting our advocacy initiatives that contribute to these global goals.

Period poverty is, at its core, one of the indicators of economic poverty. The first United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) aims to ‘End poverty in all its forms everywhere.’ Its seven associated targets aim, among others, to eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women, and children of all ages living in poverty, and implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable.

Period poverty is an extension of widespread poverty in Nigeria. More unsettling is that many young girls and women are driven further into poverty when they cannot purchase menstrual hygiene products. Tackling period poverty can help lift people out of poverty, as it directly impacts their ability to participate fully as well as contribute their quota to society. In line with SDG 1, on eliminating poverty, SFEG's advocacy initiatives include increasing public awareness of period poverty, providing menstrual hygiene products, and helping shift public resources toward providing basic essential services, access to water and sanitation across Nigeria.

Lack of access to good menstrual hygiene can cause serious physical, emotional, and mental health problems.  Girls who lack access to menstruation hygiene products may use unhygienic materials like leaves or old rags. These improvised solutions can result in vaginal infections as well as other reproductive health problems like urinary tract infections and fungal infections, which if left untreated can cause discomfort, suffering, and long-term health consequences.

Along with the stress of not having access to menstrual hygiene products,  the stigma associated with menstruation can cause girls to experience emotional and mental health problems like depression as they may feel embarrassed or anxious about their periods, which can negatively impact their general well-being.

More unfortunate is that the pandemic and other ongoing crises are exacerbating existing health inequalities and threatening progress toward universal health coverage, especially in low- and middle-income countries, where health systems were already under-resourced before the pandemic. These deplorable situations run counter to Sustainable Development Goal 3 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is to ‘ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

At SFEG we are aligned with the SDG 3 targets aimed at ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services; achieving universal health coverage; and reducing the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and pollution. 

We believe that access to menstrual hygiene products and proper education on menstrual health can improve the health and well-being of individuals. Therefore, our project emphasizes education on menstrual health, ensuring that individuals are informed about safe and healthy practices. 

According to the United Nations publication on SDG 4, ‘If no additional measures are taken, only one in six countries will meet SDG 4 and achieve universal access to quality education by 2030.’ The UN further reported that an estimated 84 million children and young people will still be out of school while about 300 million students will still not have the basic numeracy and literacy skills they need to succeed in life. 

Scary, right?

Let's bring it home.

In Nigeria, 62% of the 10.3M out-of-school children are girls.

While SDG 4 with the goal, ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’, places a strong emphasis on inclusive and equitable education for all, period poverty makes it difficult for young girls to attend classes, thereby contributing to gender disparities in education and at the workplace. 

A study conducted in some parts of the country indicated that girls in low-economic communities often miss school during their periods and eventually, drop out of school entirely because they are unequipped to safely manage their monthly flows with dignity. The burden of menstruation affects girls at a critical time in their lives, impacting both their education and economic potential. Because of entrenched stigma and taboos, menstruation is rarely discussed in families or schools, and menarche often arrives suddenly to girls with little or no knowledge of what is happening. 

SFEG hopes to address this goal by facilitating the introduction of menstrual hygiene management as part of the educational agenda for school-aged girls in public schools. We will also continue in our work of breaking the stigmatization associated with menstruation and period poverty, through our sensitization outreaches, so that girls can freely attend school without shame.

Period poverty is an extension of widespread poverty in Nigeria, one that creates unique barriers to opportunities for women and girls. It exposes the unequal access they concerning to basic resources, education, occupational segregation, gender wage gaps and opportunities. It also limits their participation in society such as decent work, sports, and social gatherings and ultimately their under-representation in political and economic decision-making processes.

Consequently, young girls and women from marginalized and low-income groups are also affected by social and economic inequalities. The disparity in access to basic menstrual hygiene products runs contrary to the SDG 10 goal of reducing inequalities.  Period poverty is frequently linked to other forms of inequality, such as race, ethnicity, disability, and refugee status. Women and girls who belong to any or more of these marginalized groups may face additional problems including discrimination and violence. This is why it is imperative to address period poverty as part of efforts to reduce inequality.

SFEG’s advocacy initiatives in line with SDG goals 5 and 10, ‘To end all forms of discrimination and inequalities against all women and girls everywhere’, include promoting gender-sensitive policies and fostering a more equal world, focusing on these marginalized groups and ensuring they have equal access to menstrual hygiene as well as calling for the addition of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) to the agenda of access to clean water and improved sanitation in low-resource environments of Nigeria.

Along with eradicating poverty and managing natural resources to promote economic and social development, sustainable consumption and production were identified as one of the three prerequisites for sustainable development. It has become apparent that to achieve global sustainable development and prevent climate change, fundamental changes in how societies produce and consume are needed.

Our decision to provide reusable pads as a solution to period poverty takes into consideration the United Nations SDG 12 and 13: ‘Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.’ and ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

From our work experience, we know that the disposable nature of many menstrual hygiene products, together with their widespread usage, contributes to environmental pollution. We also agree that the improper disposal of such materials can cause harm to our ecosystems and waterways.

As part of our ongoing commitment to promote responsible consumption and climate action,  SFEG addresses period poverty in an environmentally appropriate way by distributing reusable menstruation products and promoting climate awareness education during our sensitization outreaches. 

To accomplish the Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 17, ‘Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development’, emphasizes the importance of partnerships between governmental entities, corporations, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders.

The achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals requires all hands on deck, particularly in developing countries like Nigeria. Different sectors and actors must work together in an integrated manner by pooling financial resources, knowledge, and expertise. However, funding for development remains a major challenge, particularly in many developing countries as they are battling record inflation, rising interest rates and looming debt burdens, competing priorities, and limited fiscal space.

Period poverty is a complicated problem that calls for cooperation amongst numerous stakeholders, as it intersects with several components of sustainable development, such as gender equality, health, education, and environmental sustainability. To this end, a major surge in concerted action is needed to ensure developing countries have access to the financing and technologies needed to guarantee access to menstrual hygiene products, education, and facilities.

Next step

Everyday we ensure that girls do not get exposed to lifelong diseases or miss out on an education. We are committed to ensuring that every girl gets a dignified period but WE CANNOT DO THIS WITHOUT YOU!

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