Championing the Sanitary Pad Donation Drive for Underprivileged Girls

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Annually, the Menstrual Hygiene Day, which was initiated by the German-based NGOWASH United in 2014, is marked every May 28 to highlight the importance of good menstrual hygiene. To commemorate this year’s menstrual day, Chiemelie Ezeobi speaks with the Founder of Padman Africa, Chaste Inegbedion about the Sanitary Pad Donation Drive, a project that gives underprivileged girls sanitary pads, as well as change the narrative around menstruation from the stigma it is associated with, to the need for hygienic and safe menstrual health management. Excerpts:

Why are you known as the Pad Man?
I am the founder of Padman Africa, a project that focuses on gender equality involving men. In Nigeria, I am known as Africa’s “Pad Man” due to my involvement with the Sanitary Pad Donation Drive, a project that gives underprivileged girls sanitary pads and attempts to improve learning for girls who cannot afford sanitary napkins.

What is your advocacy about?
As a social activist and entrepreneur, PADMAN AFRICA is a non-profit group run by young advocates. We are a clearing house for sanitary pads and other sanitary products like hand sanitisers, liquid hand wash, period trackers and pocket tissues through our Padbank and Period Purse initiatives. We are working daily with other menstrual hygiene advocates and professionals to change the narrative around menstruation from the stigma it is associated with, to the need for hygienic and safe menstrual health management. We seek to involve men in menstrual awareness campaigns so they can be involved in providing care to those in need.

The Menstrual Hygiene Handbook educates girls and boys about menstruation, taking the important step of breaking the silence around the issue through fun and interactive means. The handbook has been received by the wife of the vice president of Nigeria, the US Consular General and other distinguished personalities for review.

What drives you in pushing issues on menstruation for women?

Menstruation is an important phase in every woman’s life, which signals growth and biophysical maturity. Every normal girl or woman experiences this change as a natural, involuntary process. Unfortunately, minimal attention is paid to this aspect of women’s life. Rather, menstruation is a cause for negative societal reactions that tend to reduce women’s self-esteem and is often a harbinger of emotional guilt. What is natural and inevitable becomes a social burden for females in many African societies.

Lots of women are constrained or even deprived of the right to manage their menstrual cycle adequately, weighed against social biases and economic inadequacies like poverty; while others who may not face any social rebuffs may lack the financial capacity to manage menstruation hygienically and safely. Therefore, paying attention to proper menstrual hygiene simply becomes an opportunity cost and the alternative foregone.

Besides economic challenges, ignorance arising from poor education perpetuates old myths wherein societies are stuck in cultural believes surrounding menstruation. Menstruating girls and women face several possibilities including discrimination, stigmatisation, ostracism, and segregation during their periods.

In some societies, women may not be allowed access to some parts of the house; may not make use of common utensils (like plates and cups) or facilities (like bathrooms and toilets) in the home; may not be allowed to attend social events or public gatherings; and may be restrained from their regular chores or duties – not as a relief but as a result of the “uncleanness” arising from their period. They are thus considered impure, dirty, soiled, and consequently expected to keep a distance.

This imposes upon the “victims” thus neglected a feeling of shame and erodes their self-confidence during their period; thus, menstruation becomes a silent curse for girls and women, even those in marriage. The resort to self-help and unwholesome practices increases the risk of cervical cancer, and other infections of their intimate body parts, which they may not be aware of.

As a man championing such a feminine cause, do you get discriminated against?
I get more celebrations rather than the discriminations, because the answer is simple: involve as many men possible! Men have a meaningful part to play in this conversation; as brothers, fathers, uncles, cousins, and teachers to name a few. Only with understanding and awareness of menstruation and menstrual practices are men empowered to act. These actions could be advocating for clean and private bathrooms, role-modeling period positive behavior to students, communicating care and empathy rather than disgust and shame… or even stitching pads for the women in your life!

How did that journey start for you?
I started advocating for Menstrual Health and Hygiene and affordable sanitary products as far back as I can remember because Menstruation is one of the key components of SRHR and the perceptions surrounding menstruation inspired my advocacy. An example is a campaign I led which saw to the revival of a genitally abused girl child —she was a five-year-old girl by the name Pwashikai Nideonofrom Adamawa state left to die after suffering Female Genital Mutilation and an urgent financial aid was needed for vaginoplasty. I then started the ‘Save PwashikaiNideono campaign’ which generated enough buzz and funds for a successful operation. And since then, Pwashikaihas been reconciled back to society. That spurred more activities around the promotion of Gender Equality while living in Northern Nigeria as an advocate of the MDGs now known as the Sustainable Development Goals. Growing up with lot of cousins, nieces and aunties as my father had to use our home to accommodate those who were coming in to Lagos to pursue greener pasture. I was an errand boy helping out with the purchase of Sanitary Pads at a ‘younger age ’ for the ‘adult ladies’ around me.

What does the Padman Africa process entails?

The process starts from data collection through questionnaires, investigative journalism, volunteerism, events and incentives and focus group discussions.

What is the cost of ensuring the pack gets to those that need it?

Nigeria is one of the many countries that tax menstrual products, putting further strain on women and girls from underprivileged communities.
Between 2015 and 2018, sanitary pads like Always Ultra rose from N250 to N400, Always Classic from N200 to N300, and Lady Care from N250 to N400. Most Tampon brand products which sold for N750 have risen to about N1200.
The reason for the price hike can be traced to the inflation in the country and the fall in the exchange value of the national currency, the naira.

Although sanitary pads are the healthiest and most convenient menstrual management products because they are comfortable and leave little or no stain, research showed that many Nigerian girls and young women now use cloth napkins, cotton wools and tissue paper for economic reasons.

During the International Day of Education, Padman Africa unveiled the Period Purses that contains other components aside the disposable pads and we are calling on more affordable period innovations to be available on our Padbankng.com to enable our girls beat Period Poverty through the Buy One, Give One Model we encourage the support of Corporate Africa and Corporate America most especially the Pad Merchants.

Any partnership with government and private institutions in this fight?

Prior to the hike in the price of sanitary pads, there were calls from both young women and men on government to reduce or stop taxing female hygiene products in Nigeria. We said if condoms are shared free, sanitary pads should be too.
We joined this groups of young advocates, non-governmental organisations and individuals who have taken bold steps to reduce and possibly end menstrual period poverty in the country.

In October 2018, we began advocacy on various social media platforms, particularly on Twitter, urging the federal government to scrap the tax on sanitary pads to make them affordable for women and young girls. Using the hashtag, #EndThe9jaTaxOnPads, the campaign relayed the plight of young girls – especially those in rural areas – who use materials like towels and tissues as substitutes for sanitary pads. We demanded that sanitary pads be distributed free to secondary school students and teenagers in rural areas.

We joined in submitting a petition titled “An appeal to end all the taxes on menstrual hygiene products (including sanitary pads) and pass the menstrual hygiene bill” to the National Assembly. This petition was written by the convener of the #EndThe9jaTaxOnPads advocacy, Harvey Olufunmilayo, alongside Social Justice Advocate and the co-founder of Whole Woman Network, Juliet Kego, a public analyst and youth advocate, Yemi Fasipe, Yemi Ojora, a tax professional, social advocate and other youth advocates like ourselves “who worked behind the scenes.”

The petition dated November 1 was submitted to the offices of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, chairman of the Senate Committees on Health, Lanre Tejuoso; and the wife of the Senate president, Toyin Saraki. Copies of the petition were also submitted to the offices of all the female senators and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.

In the past, BudgIT Foundation has been a great supporter of our events most especially co hosting the Menstrual Hygiene Day with the British Deputy High Commission as we countdown to this year, menstrual hygiene day with proposed support from the UN Department of Global Communications, Civil Society Unit and Partners.

Our goal is also to contribute to Wikipedia sites with more useful information for people seeking knowledge across the globe; as an online research and information site with a global reach. Wikipedia fits into our profile of affordable, accessible and broad-based education on menstrual hygiene and the need to change the narratives. The overriding purpose of which is to improve the conditions of women and girls in menstruation in Nigerian and African communities in general.