Being a Girl
is Not a Shame
By Jennifer Abu
I have decided to discuss a topic that no one ever wants to talk about. Periods. Let us not shy away from it because it happens.
To the men reading this, periods are not a walk in the park. See, periods are expensive. Ladies you know the deal walking into CVS and having to drop fifteen bucks on the good stuff, you know Always or Poise. Periods are painful. Yeah, 7 days, 168 hours, and 604800 seconds of excruciating pain. (no exaggeration) Periods are uncomfortable. Vomiting, nausea, and back aches all come in the period package.
Where am I going with this? See, what I like about America is that pads and tampons are easily accessible and most pharmacies carry them for a somewhat decent price. Medications are also readily available to ease the pain during menstruation. As a woman making minimum wage, I can afford these feminine products. But imagine living in an environment where you make less than a dollar a month and you have to decide between tampons or dinner.
Last December, I visited Nigeria to spend Christmas with my immediate and extended families. We stayed in our village, Otukpa, for about 10 days and eventually stayed in Abuja for the rest of the time. During my stay in the village, I noticed that the market women didn’t carry pads in their little kiosks. It was my time and I noticed that the pads I brought from America were running out. What was I to do? The next pharmacy was located in the Nkwo, the big marketplace about 30 minutes away from our house. (Note: This market operates every five days.) I decided to hop on an Okada with my mom, because the car wasn’t available at the time. Let me tell you, it was one of the worst experiences of my life. First of all, it was blazing HOT. Heat plus cramps is not fun. It was mid- afternoon when we arrived and the marketplace was crowded. My americanah self was not used to it. Nkwo consisted of little children hawking around the streets trying to sell pure water and groundnuts, live chickens being sold on the streets, and taxi drivers persuading you to get in their cabs. At that time, my cramps were getting worse. I was not with anything. I wanted to go home! My mom asked several sellers where the next pharmacy was. They told her. When we arrived at the pharmacy, my mom quickly bought two tablets of paracetamol. (I swear Nigerians believe this drug can cure anything) The “pharmacist” handed me pure water to take with my medications. We sat down on the bench. There was a slight breeze that quickly put me out to sleep. I slept for about 30 minutes when my mom woke me up to go home. We bought the pads and said our good byes to the “pharmacist”. I was feeling much better at the time we left. My mom bought me okpa and oranges. After eating, we hopped on a nearby okada and headed home.
Why did I tell this story? Because the high stress that comes with tending to the most basic body function of a female is actually not okay and compromises the overall psychological make up of women and encourages the separation between us and our bodies. As privileged as I was, and am, I still had to struggle to get what I needed. Imagine what a girl, living in a rural environment, has to go through during her time of the month. In rural areas in Africa, feminine products are not readily available. In most cases, girls would have to use unhygienic ways to protect themselves like leaves, soil or cloth from old clothing. Some mothers can’t afford buying pads for their daughters. Why worry about tampons when there is no guarantee that there will be food on the table?
Many girls in rural environments are missing school during their menstruation cycles. I have read multiple stories from young girls who have stayed home due to the embarrassment they face from stained skirts and dresses. Sometimes this leads to them dropping out of school completely. Some reasons for this are that they are not taught how to manage their menses and body hygiene with confidence, their school restrooms are not effectively fit for their needs, and cramps that comes with menstruation significantly affects concentration in classes. Girls face challenges due to the lack of clean latrines, inadequate water supplies, and sanitary facilities. Many girls in low-income countries such as Malawi do not have private, clean and safe places for washing hands or clothing in school. Schools lack adequate means to dispose used menstrual materials and waste. We need to do better to ensure that girls don’t miss out on their education. One main thing is to improve the sanitary conditions in schools. Since girls and women are more prone to infectious diseases, therefore, there should be a continuous effort to create facilities that are conducive to a girl’s health. Female hygiene should be discussed more in schools. Teachers should educate their girls on the importance of self-care and most importantly that being a girl is not a shame.
An educated girl makes the world a better place.
(Okada- a motorcycle used for transportation and commercial purposes; americanah- a slang that refers to mostly Africans that have moved to America for sometime or permanently and have blended the American way of life into their original African lifestyle. In speech, mannerism, etc; Pure water- purified water in a plastic bag; okpa- a Nigerian dish made mostly out of cow pea and palm oil.)