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Weighing the costs of hygiene poverty in Nigeria (I)

Short-term solutions to reducing hygiene-related poverty among women include free and charitable donations of sanitary products

Before the novel COVID-19 pandemic struck, there were already deep flaws in global trends, which have led to several unresolved issues, now exacerbated by the global shock as we know it.

Rising temperatures and increasing pressures on the earth were signs of changing climatic conditions due to human interferences on the earth; biodiversity loss, air and water pollution, land degradation, storms, famine, trade and currency rifts between rival nations, global commodity price volatilities, civil and political unrests, as well as terrorism, all plagued the universe at the same time.

It seemed that the world was headed for unrecoverable destruction. Then, COVID-19 showed up. The earth trembled.

While more advanced economies seem to be getting along with post-pandemic recovery efforts and results, less developed countries are reported to lag far behind their developed counterparts. Many African and some emerging economies are still struggling to keep up with post-pandemic stabilisation. Still, the future of these countries seems bleak, especially if appropriate government efforts are not deployed.

For Nigeria, the incidence of poverty still looms even amid moderately anchored post-COVID-19 intervention programmes by the government and private concerns.

Chief among the forms of poverty experienced in the country is hygiene-related.

In Nigeria, hygiene poverty has become a noteworthy source of concern for all; the government and other related international bodies have been throwing some weight on issues such as the border period and environmental poverty in the country. This is because the former continually contributes to inequality among the female citizenry of the nation while the latter affects all and sundry, be it humans or non-humans.

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Period poverty in Nigeria

The deprivation of a select class of individuals in a society or country from essentials of life imposes limitations on their day to day functioning and existence. When these individuals are deprived, they cannot control beneficial life outcomes in their favour.

Ladies or women who are unable to afford a decent sanitary lifestyle are regarded as period poor. They use rags, tissues or cotton wools instead of hygienic products.

Most hygienically poor ladies or women live an economically disconnected lifestyle since they cannot afford essential items that support an average daily lifestyle.

The inability to afford items as essential as sanitary pads can have lasting social and psychological effects on these youngsters whose choices in life become limited due to the deprivation they face. The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reports that 1 in 10 school-aged girls in Africa misses or drops out of school because of sanitary deprivation.

The average period for girls lasts up to 5 days. The increasing cost of sanitary pads makes these poor girls shift towards non-hygienic options, which could have undesirable long-lasting effects.

Many of the affected individuals in Nigeria complain about the alternative uses of the money which would have been committed to purchasing the expensive pads. They believe that their nutritional needs come first, and then hygiene can follow if spare resources are still available.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reports that in 2020, about 80 million people live in extreme poverty in Nigeria. This increase in poverty count has been blamed on the country’s population growth rate, increase in living cost, and the covid-19 outbreak. With this realisation, it is not far-fetched to expect that more women and girls will experience period poverty in the coming years.

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Indeed, using unhygienic products in place of available but more costly health-passed alternatives imposes dire consequences which may further worsen their impoverished state.

Risk exposure due to using harmful materials during the monthly observance can cause health concerns. With increasing health-related consequences such as bacterial or fungal infections due to unsafe practices, affected individuals must forcefully make financial commitments towards treatment in clinics or hospitals to regain their health.

Hence, using unsafe alternatives for cost avoidance can lead to health and economic issues, which further worsens the poor state of the affected individuals.

How can period poverty among Nigerian ladies be reduced?

Short-term solutions to reducing hygiene-related poverty among women include free and charitable donations of sanitary products by charity organisations and other concerned governmental and non-governmental agencies. These generous gestures should focus mainly on the poorest among the individuals in society.

Also, the government can commit to subsidising the cost of purchase of these sanitary items. This will ensure that the economically disadvantaged women and ladies can afford safe and healthy sanitary items on one hand while still having extra income to expend on food and other home supplies on the other hand.

A longer-termed solution lies within the government’s capacity to partner with non-governmental organisations and other private interests to support social responsibility practices, especially in extremely poor communities. With an increased commitment towards communal accountability, a broader avenue will be created towards opportunities that cater for poor women and young ladies whose financial situation naturally offers them little or no choice in the quest for a decent and hygienic lifestyle.

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