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In Nigeria, as Cost of Living Rises, Women Migrate to Reusable Pads, Risking Menstrual Health

By Qosim Suleiman

Advocates say the challenges faced by menstruating Nigerian women are multi-faceted and demand a comprehensive menstrual health policy by the Nigerian government.

Every month, Sadiya Maikasuwa, 40, is reminded that the cost of living crisis for her means more than high food prices. She now spends double what she used to on sanitary pads -- a monthly expense she must prepare for.

Until she started using sanitary pads some years ago, Ms Maikasuwa never worried about these expenses. The mother of three said she has now reverted to her old ways.

"I used sanitary pads before but it's too expensive now. I have stopped using it," she told PREMIUM TIMES at her neighbour's home in Pegi, a community in Kuje Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Settling for Cheaper Options

Zainab Muhammad, a 24-year-old student at a university in Sokoto State, North-west Nigeria, makes and sells snacks and confectionery, making between N1,000 and N3,000 profits daily, depending on orders. Yet, she is not immune to period poverty. Ms Muhammad said she has had to settle for a less expensive sanitary pad or use a less healthy alternative.

"When I don't have enough money, I use what our parents used to use," she said, referring to cuttings, adding it is an option she now explores more frequently.

Retailers and shop owners who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES in different parts of the country said they have not experienced a major reduction in sales despite the hike in prices. What they experienced, they say, is a shift to the less expensive products.

"The sanitary pads are just like water to our dear ladies," said Misbau Kabara, who owns a store in the Terminus market in Jos, Plateau State. Mr Kabara said the hike has not significantly affected the number of sanitary products he sells.

Armiya'u Aliyu, a shop owner in Sokoto State, said more customers are switching to lesser-priced products.

"Some will come to buy the other (more expensive) one and when they don't have enough money for it, they just buy the other one," he said.

Umar Hassan, a store owner at Wuse Market in Abuja, also said his customers opt for the less expensive products.

"Some people that used to buy Molped stopped buying it when it became expensive and they have switched to Softcare because it costs less," he said.

How Prices of Sanitary Pads Rose

PREMIUM TIMES spoke with sellers of the products in the FCT, Enugu, Plateau, Lagos, and Sokoto states.

At the Wuse Market in Abuja, Rufai Ibrahim, a trader, said the prices have doubled in the last few months. He said Softcare sold for N1,000 last year but now costs N1,800. Always, another brand, which used to sell for between N700 and N800, now sells for N1,500, he said.

Mr Ibrahim said the smallest size of Molped increased from N500 to N1,000. The medium size increased from N1,000 to N2,000 and the biggest size from N1,500 to N3,000.

"Most of them doubled their prices," he said, adding that his customers now buy less quantity than they used to.

This year, the price of Molped has increased at least two times, PREMIUM TIMES gathered.

The price of a bag containing 18 packs of sanitary pads sold for N11,250 (for Maxi thick) and N13,320 (Ultra soft) in February. Each of the packs contains seven to eight pieces of sanitary pads. The bag with eight packs (each with 32 pieces) sold for N16,640 (Maxi thick) and N20,240 (Ultra soft).

In March, the bag of 18 packs increased to N13,800 (Maxi thick) and N16,500 (Ultra soft). The bag of eight packs increased to N21,000 (Maxi thick) and N25,500 (Ultra soft).

In April, the price for a carton of Virony increased from N36,000 to N40,000, said Umar Hassan, a store owner at Wuse Market in Abuja.

He said a carton of Softcare increased from N31,000 to N35,500. Molped increased from N10,500 to N16,500. "It's the most surprising one because it's the smallest and they hiked the price so much," he said.

He added that the smaller carton of Softcare increased from N9,800 to N11,500.

In Sokoto State, Armiya'u Aliyu, a store owner, said the price of Molped recently increased from N500 to N750 and Softcare from N400 to N650.

Mr Kabara, a store owner in Jos, said the price of Virony increased from N1,200 to N2,000.

Reusable Pads to the Rescue

Faced with the rising prices, some women told PREMIUM TIMES that they have abandoned disposable sanitary pads.

Safiya (not real name), a broadcast journalist, said reusable pads have offered her freedom from the constant expenses of sanitary pads.

"Well, it is getting ridiculous. The price you heard of today differs from that of tomorrow, so I opted for reusable pads in the market," she said.

"Now, I buy reusable pads instead and I am okay with it. ...though washing it can be somehow, but we move."

Also, Ubaida Abubakar, 35, said she started using reusable pads after it was distributed to her daughter in school. "When you use it, you can wash it, dry it in the sun, and reuse it next time," she said.

Ms Funke-Treasure said reusable pads are one of the ways to solve the issues of period poverty. She said her not-for-profit has also adopted the distribution of reusable sanitary pads to tackle period poverty in both urban and rural areas.

"The disposable ones you use and discard. The reusable ones you use, wash, sun-dry, and then use again. So you don't have that repeated purchases," she said.

Martha (not real name) said she now uses the sanitary pads for longer hours than she used to, changing it less frequently to reduce the number she uses.

"Because of the availability of the pads, I used to change like three to four times but now I find myself changing only twice a day," she said.

Charity Israel said she experiences 'heavy flow,' which means she has to change the sanitary pads more frequently. She uses three packs whenever she's on her period, she said. Ms Israel lamented that she now gets only one pack with the same amount she previously paid for the three packs she needs.

"(The hiked cost of sanitary pads) stresses me out, but I still struggle to get it," Kasuwa Danlami said, echoing what some retailers told this newspaper.

Losing Campaign against Period Poverty

When Ms Funke-Treasure started the media campaign against period poverty in 2020, sanitary pads were still selling for between N400 and N450 but many women couldn't afford them.

"Fast forward to four years later, a pack now sells for N1,000, depending on the kind of brand that you're looking for," she said.

Ms Funke-Treasure, who produces radio dramas, podcasts, and a TV show about menstrual hygiene, worries that the inflationary effect on sanitary pads may reverse the gain recorded in the number of women adopting sanitary pads, and worsen menstrual hygiene for them.

"If we thought we were winning, with the campaign for proper menstrual hygiene for women, it looks like we may be losing that way given the rising cost of living in Nigeria now."

She said the challenges faced by menstruating Nigerian women are multi-faceted. She, therefore, advocated a comprehensive policy by the Nigerian government.

"We're saying to the government, please let's have a comprehensive menstrual health policy that will make it possible for children or school girls to have free menstrual pads. That's number one," she said.

She added that the policy should also extend to practices including menstrual leave at places of work.

"Many women in the workplace suffer from endometriosis or fibroids from PMDD and all of those things they will not tell you because of the silence around period conversations," she added.


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