The Platform

Students that Mariam Adeola Salihu and her team lectured on menstrual hygiene. (Mariam Adeola Salihu)

LAGOS, Nigeria – For quite some time, Mariam Adeola Salihu had not visited her hometown of Offa, in the southwest of the country. Upon her arrival in late 2021, she paid a visit to her alma mater to “feel at home again” but the conditions the girls faced prompted Mariam to give back to her community. Mariam is doing this by waging a war against period poverty.

After graduation from high school, Mariam’s life improved dramatically after she was accepted to study Biological Science at Ahmadu Bello University, one of the foremost research institutions in the country. Living in the school’s hostel at the time, she came in close contact with nomadic yarinyas, women who typically help students carry out daily chores like washing, fetching water, and sweeping in exchange for money or food.

“I got very close with one of them and we got into a discussion. I was amazed when she said she doesn’t have a pad and had never used one in her entire life. These girls lacked basic information on menstrual hygiene,” Mariam explained to me.

Mariam Adeola Salihu and a young student
Mariam Adeola Salihu and a young student. (Mariam Adeola Salihu)

In most low-income households, girls often do not have access to enough knowledge about menstrual hygiene and are battling with acute period poverty. Research shows that the situation is worrisome to the extent that it has contributed to truancy and has forced some girls to resort to the use of unhealthy means like toilet rolls, dirty rags, leaves, and pieces of cloth because their parents cannot afford sanitary pads.

According to UNESCO, a large number of young girls skip school due to period poverty as most schools in Nigeria lack functional toilets where girls can clean themselves during their menstrual cycles.

The affordability of sanitary pads is also an issue. Sanitary pads typically cost around $1.33. Considering that the average monthly wage for a Nigerian family is roughly $297, most families if having to choose between putting food on the table or buying sanitary pads, are going to choose food.

Students that Mariam Adeola Salihu has helped
Students that Mariam Adeola Salihu has helped. (Mariam Adeola Salihu)

All this led Mariam to start the Achievers Foundation, a not-for-profit organization in Lagos State. Her foundation distributes sanitary pads free of charge but also engages girls about their physical and mental health. In November 2021, about 300 students at the Offa Grammar School in Kwara State were given free pads after a lecture on sexual and menstrual health.

“When they brought this program to my school, I felt overwhelmed because it teaches young girls about their monthly cycles. Some girls who felt shy or rejected about their periods will not feel any shame again. Some of my classmates used toiletries or dirty wrappers because they could not afford to buy a pad,” Tuga Teminioluwa said with excitement in an interview. Tuga said she and her classmates have benefited from the initiative.

Mariam told me that her initiative makes the “atmosphere comfortable for the beneficiaries” because “menstruation is not an option for every young girl who is not pregnant.” Aside from providing young girls with sanitary pads, Mariam strives to give them a sense of belonging in their communities.

To generate funds to run the Achievers Foundation, Mariam explains that she shares its work with friends and families on social media. She explained that she will eventually apply for international grants for further funding. Mariam stresses that “improper hygiene has the adverse effects of leading to infertility and so many dangerous things.”

Mariam says some children did not show interest earlier when the initiative was brought to them because their mothers have taught them that they should not respond to menstruation issues in public places simply because it is “taboo.”

“Our main challenge is basically lack of funds; we really hope our outreach can happen every month but there is a barricade due to financial constraints. We wish to reach over 1,000 girls in a single year because I am passionate about giving back to the society that we are all part of,” she told me.

The Achievers Foundation is calling on the Nigerian government to make sanitary pads free so that the stress of buying one or the option of resorting to unhygienic alternatives will be eradicated.

Mohammed Taoheed is a freelance journalist based in northwest Nigeria where he studies Law at the Usmanu Danfodiyyo University, Sokoto State. Taoheed is interested in development, conflict, politics, and social justice.