The stark reality for many girls in Nigeria, especially vulnerable groups like refugees, is that their lives are put on hold when they menstruate. For fear of ridicule, some girls avoid school and other social activities during menstruation, especially in cultures where menstruation is stigmatised.
“I could not go to school because I did not have enough sanitary pads. I prefer the reusable pad, especially now that there is no money to buy the disposable one,” says Patience, a 19-year-old Cameroonian refugee student in a Secondary School in Benue State.
Like Patience, most refugee women and girls, cannot afford sanitary pads because they are often expensive and sometimes unavailable. Some girls manage their menstrual cycle in an unhealthy manner by using pieces of cloth, which are often unsanitary and uncomfortable, and may miss school during this period.
Not being able to afford sanitary pads and other necessities for personal hygiene and menstrual health, puts women and girls in refugee and internal displacement situations at further risk of exploitation. According to Grace Kironcho, UNHCR’s Associate Gender-Based Violence Officer in Ogoja, Nigeria, “this situation increases the risks of sexual exploitation and abuse — if a man approaches a refugee woman or girl offering money in exchange for sexual favours, they are likely to accept.”
Through a project funded by the European Union Humanitarian Aid, UNHCR and its partner, Save the Children International, are providing refugee women and girls with access to menstrual hygiene management and livelihood opportunities to reduce their risk of encountering gender-based violence. The project, which began as a pilot in 2020, has equipped 100 women with tailoring skills and starter kits, allowing them to produce thousands reusable pads.
The women learned how to make and use reusable sanitary pads in the tailoring classes. They then went on to teach others the skill, while at the same time also selling the pads in the community to earn some extra cash to cater for other household needs.
These reusable pads are not just cost-effective and long-lasting compared to the disposable ones, but they also reduce pollution.
Erica Ayah, a Cameroonian refugee, and mother of five, is a tailor. Every month, she makes and sells or distributes over average of 30 sanitary pads to women and girls in the refugee community and the host community. In 2021, after completing her training through the UNHCR project, Erica received a tailoring starter kit to train other women and girls.
“From the leftover materials I sew for people, I make reusable sanitary pads and share them with young schoolgirls in my community, and they like it,” says Erica with a smile.