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Published On: Mon, May 29th, 2017

Priced out: High cost of sanitary pads force girls to use rags, tissue paper

.        Skip school, sporting activities

 

UCHE AKOLISA

 

A rooftop-high increase in the price of sanitary pads has forced teenage girls to resort to use of rags, tissue paper, cotton wool and sanitary pads of questionable quality most of which are smuggled into the country from China during their monthly periods. Some others wear their sanitary pad for longer hours, raising concern over feminine hygiene, investigations revealed.

 

The hike in the price which cut across most brands in the Nigerian market has the market leader, Always Ultra Sanitary Pad(Procter& Gamble), and its major rival, Ladycare  (Sankin Nig Ltd) dealing their consumers the hardest blow with a 100% increase in price from N250 per pack in 2015 to N500 in 2017 andN200 to N400 in the same period, respectively; Diva (Marley Global Ltd) leapt from N180 to N250(38.8%); Feelite (2-in-1 economy) from N40 to N70(75%) while Tampon rose from N750 to N1200(60%).

 

With the development, many teenage girls from poor and middle-class homes now stay away from school or sports and other extra-curricular activities during menstruation to save themselves from public embarrassment that a possible stain could cost them.

 

The price hike has raised concern among educators, parents, medics, activists, and other members of the public who worried that the development would worsen the state of girl-child education. Nigeria is burdened by low girl-child education. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), only 56.7%of 17 million Nigerian girls aged between10 and 19 have primary education while 45.7% have secondary education. Similarly, the National Democracy and Health Survey 2013 revealed that girls make 60% of 10.5 million out-of-schoolchildren in Nigerian.

 

At N500, the new price of Always Ultra Sanitary pad, a housewife could buy a sizable tuber of yam that would serve a family of four for a meal. With the Nigerian economy still in recession, many average families living on a shoestring budget amidst struggle to streamline spending to basic needs would rather spend on food than a good quality sanitary pad for their girls.

 

Nigeria slumped into recession over a year and half ago, causing high inflation, especially food inflation and over 3.7 million job losses in 2016, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Many workers in both public and private sectors who still have their jobs have suffered salary cuts or are being owed arrears of salaries ranging from 4 months to 15 months.

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Omolara Olayokun, 14 year SS1 student of a public secondary school in Agege, a low-income suburb in Lagos, had her menarche two years ago at 12. The teenage girl who lives with her grandmother took off her journey into womanhood with Always Ultra Sanitary Pad as her companion. Today, they have been separated by economic down-turn.

 

High inflation induced by recession has affected prices of essential commodities including Omolara’s favourite sanitary pad, forcing her to resort to Ladycare, a more affordable substitute. However, at dire moment when there was no pack of Ladycare nor money to get one when the monthly visitor called, she had to use pieces of clothes.

 

“When I started, I was using Always. It last longer. Now because of the price, I cannot use Always again. I used clothes, pieces of Ankara, once because there was no money in the house. It stained all my clothes, “she recalled, turning her pained eyes from meeting this writer’s.

 

Although Favour John, a 13 -year old JS student of Dreamers College, a private secondary school, also in Lagos, did not take to rags like Omolara, her option kept her off sporting activities in school whenever her monthly flow arrived.

 

“I use Diva. It is smaller (than Always) and cheaper. Always stays glued on your pants because they use plenty of gel. Diva doesn’t. So, I don’t go for sports when I am menstruating because of that,” disclosed Favour.

 

Adetutu Obisanya, 14, an SS 1 student of Barachel College, another private school in Lagos who confirmed that with the recession many girls her peer have taken to unwholesome hygiene practice said:

“Some girls use tissue paper or pack together pieces of clothes. Some use the pad for more than eight hours. It is not good because they can get infection in their private part or they start smelling or it soils their clothes,” she reasoned.

 

Adetutu and her friends; Sharon Ndubuisi,12; Blessing Johnson,14,and Sarah Fofara,14, had all switched from Always to Ladycare, Diva and Feelite Sanitary Pads, respectively though they admitted that they felt more comfortable with Always Ultra Pad.

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Every Nigerian girl’s best friend, Always Ultra Sanitary Pad is  the most popular brand of sanitary towels among teenage girls in Nigeria, preferred for its unique slim towel with wings and gel and the brand promise of 8 hours of ‘No check, no stain.’ However, lately that relationship has gone sour to the advantage of less popular–though – affordable brands and unwholesome absorbent materials at the expense of academic performance and health of the girl-child.

 

A Lagos-based educationist, Mrs Josephine Oduyemi, said that the resort to less comfortable absorbent materials during periods affect performance of girls in school.

“It will affect their performance. There would be lack of concentration. She (a girl who is not well- protected during menstruation) will not be able to participate in learning.”

 

According to a medical practitioner, Dr Wale Ajala of Ladi-Lak Medical Centre, Lagos, the use of rags, tissues or substandard sanitary pads may lead to urogenital infections capable of causing infertility or renal failure.

“Uses of those materials other than sanitary pad can lead to infection of genital and urinary system which may be complicated within fertility or renal failure if not treated properly.”

 

Irked by the hike in the price of sanitary pads, some women have advocated that sanitary pads be made free instead of free condoms which some non-governmental organisations are wont to dish out, arguing that  sanitary pad is a necessity that if not met could keep the girl-child away from school. One of them, Vivian Ugwu, recently kicked off a social media campaign with the hashtag:#Keepgirlsinschool.  Ugwu argued in a Facebook post: “Sanitary pad should be free. Condoms should be sold. Sex is a choice, menstruation isn’t.”

 

Efforts to get reaction from Procter& Gamble proved abortive as they would not respond to emailed enquiries sent to them via their communication managers as at press time. However, It remains to be seen whether the Always brand would rather continue to exploit its leadership position, pegging high profit margin at the expense of the girl-child or together with other sanitary pad marketers try a balancing act between meeting a social need and profit-taking.

 

 

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