Feminine hygiene is an important part of women's health, but wrong orientation about sexual hygiene and sex continue to impact on young girls' proper cleanliness
After minutes of turning on the bed, she woke up to the sound of a cockcrow and felt pressed to use the toilet. As she made effort to get up, she felt soggy beneath. Worried that she had wet the bed, she hurried to the toilet, only to discover blood all over her thighs and underwear. Astonished, she quietly turned on the tap, so as not to wake her father and siblings.
At only 12 years of age, it was the first time Bidemi Akande (not real names) was experiencing such. She washed up in the bathtub but the flow wouldn't stop. And ashamed to tell her father, she wrapped a large chunk of tissue paper and wedged it with fresh underwear before going back to the room. Later, before leaving for school, Bidemi took along a fresh roll of tissue.
The story of Bidemi is also that of many young girls. Sexuality hygiene, like the topic of sex is hardly broached between maturing girls and their parents. It is more difficult when, like Bidemi, the affected girl has only her father to confide in. The scenario is fair when there is a mother in the picture. Research shows that girls easily confide in their mother when faced with issues of sex and sexuality hygiene, as in the case of experiencing menstruation.
In a research work conducted by Echendu Dolly Adinma and J.I.B. Adinma and published in the African Journal of Reproductive Health Vol. 12 No.1 April, 2008, it was discovered (47.1 per cent), that medical problems were most commonly discussed with the mother. The 'cross-sectional' descriptive study was conducted amongst 550 secondary school girls in South-eastern Nigeria to determine their perceptions, problems, and practices on menstruation.
At the end of the research, the authors had recommended that the girl child be taught sexuality hygiene. The benefits that come with the teaching of sex and sexuality hygiene as part of the school curriculum for young girls nonetheless, some religious leaders and individuals oppose their teaching. Their argument usually is that sex education would expose young girls to being promiscuous.
On the other side of the divide, organisations like the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) believe the reverse is the case. FIDA has advocated the inclusion of sex education in schools' curriculum. According to them, 'This would curb rising cases of violence against women.'
The President of the body, Hauwa Shekarau, made the call in an interview in Abuja, sometime this year. She said that increased access to social networks, among other factors, had exposed children to several violent acts, including gender violence. An education by persons of authority would have served as a buffer against the ever encroaching social media.
'Children tend to put what they see on social networks into practice because there are no proper avenues to teach them the right thing,' she said. Also, Shekarau said that in spite of negative responses from some religious leaders and individuals, regarding the teaching of sex education, it was important for children to be taught moral values.
According to Shekarau of FIDA, 'There was a time some NGOs were involved in trying to include sex education in schools' curriculum but a lot of religious leaders said it will expose children to promiscuity. What we are seeing today is reinforcing the need for sex education because, at the end of the day, we don't teach these children the proper thing. They learn about these things on the Internet and from the wrong set of people and they go out of control.'
Although there is the provision for sex education Nigerian secondary school curriculum, these provisions according to Shekarau are not adequate to enlighten children on moral values. 'I am aware that a revised version of the curriculum includes some kind of sex education but I think there is need for it to be reviewed.' While the government is yet to revise the school curriculum, manufacturers of the Diva sanitary pad brand has risen to the occasion.
It should be added that the duty to educate the girl child on issues of sex and sexuality hygiene rests on the shoulders of everybody, government, religious bodies, corporate organisations, non-governmental organisations and individuals. Reason is that the repercussion affects us all. One corporate brand that has not distanced itself from this responsibility is Marley Global Limited, makers of the Diva brand of sanitary pads. They have pledged to fight for the right of every girl child to be taught sexuality hygiene.
At a recent press conference in Lagos, Managing Director of Marley Global Limited, Mr. Haresh Dalamal, said, through its 'Diva Educational Programme' to be launched next month, the company is planning to host educational seminars at numerous schools throughout the country, where young girls will have access to information on feminine hygiene as well as receiving free samples of the products.
The education programme, as part of the company's corporate social responsibility, spearheaded by the brand ambassador, famous Nollywood actress, Stephanie Linus, would be promoting hygiene for the everyday African child. The Nigerian international actress, is expected to, with her international pedigree, be fundamental in helping spread the awareness of the 'Diva Educational Programme', as well as the new innovative 'Slim' technology pad in the African market.
The Diva range is being described as the most innovative sanitary pads yet among competing brands, following a rigorous two-year R and D programme. The introduction of the 'Slim' pad - a new technology never seen before in the African market, according to the company, is a combination of a traditional 'Regular' pad and an 'Ultra-Thin'.
The company is built on the premise of driving healthcare and hygiene throughout Africa. According to its company overview, 'Not only are we committed to provide high quality and affordable products, but we are fully focused on pushing education to each individual to help show them the importance of personal hygiene.' Hopefully more brands would join the Diva brand in this mission to champion sexual hygiene education among young girls.
A good gesture from Diva, there still exist some form of challenges. The price of getting a sanitary pad has sometimes been said to be one of the many reasons young girls like Bidemi make do with tissue papers to manage their monthly menstrual flow. In addressing this challenge, manufacturers of the Diva brand have made their sanitary pads sustainable and affordable. One of their pads goes for as low as a hundred naira.
According to the research report stated above, sexuality education remains poor. The research findings advocated for 'A multi-dimensional approach, focusing on capacity building of mothers, and teachers on sexuality education skills; using religious organizations as avenues for sexuality education; and effectively using the Mass Media as reproductive health education channels.'
The above is what FIDA advocates and is the noble step being embarked upon by the Diva sanitary pad brand. Among stakeholders in the girl-child education, it is hoped that as more brands follow in the footsteps of Diva, this would help improve adolescents' perceptions and practices on menstruation.
By: Ojo Maduekwe
The Nigerian Voice