Blessing Timidi Digha is a Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Advocate, Feminist, Women Deliver Young Leader and the founder of Safe Spaces and African Girl Child Development and Support Initiative. Blessing works in the area of ensuring access to SRHR friendly services that help to prevent Unsafe abortions, Child Marriage, Female Genital Mutilation. She also provides information and services on Family Planning, Menstruation, Sexuality Education, Consent etc.
I chatted with her about menstrual taboos in Nigeria and making pads accessible to more girls and women.
The Female Orator: What inspired you to start advocating for menstrual health and hygiene?
I started advocating for Menstrual Health and Hygiene and affordable sanitary products as far back as 2011 because Menstruation is one of the key components of SRHR and the perceptions surrounding menstruation inspired my advocacy.
The Female Orator: What are some of the attitudes towards menstruation in Nigeria?
These attitudes include menstruation is unclean and dirty and people especially men shouldn’t move close to menstruating women lest they become unclean too, menstruation is not to be discussed, menstruating women are drama queens especially when they talk about their experiences with pain, stigma and restrictions. Menstruating girls are ripe for childbearing, this particular attitude fuels child marriage. Menstruation is strictly a woman’s business. These attitudes surrounding menstruation are fueled by religion, culture and personal interpretation.
The Female Orator: Are there restrictions imposed on menstruating women in Nigeria?
“YES!!!! There are many restrictions imposed on menstruating women in Nigeria. For instance, some religious sects don’t allow menstruating women participate in religious activities. They are allowed after their periods and a cleansing bath.
In many families, menstruating women are exempted from cooking or other contact chores because it is believed that they will make the food or anything they touch unclean. Also, menstruating athletes are exempted from participating in sporting activities during their periods.
The Female Orator: What are some of the taboos associated with menstruating in Nigeria?
Menstruation is unclean and menstruating women make everyone they come in contact with unclean. Menstruation brings back luck to the people around the menstruating women. Menstruation chases away the spirit of God or angels.
The Female Orator: How do we raise change the negative narratives around menstrual matters?
Education and Sensitization is the best way to change the negative narratives around Menstruation in Nigeria. This education must target everyone as menstruation concerns everyone – Men, Women, Boys, Girls, Clergy, Market men and women, Traditional Leaders, Teachers, organizations (corporate, CSOs, private, public, government parastatals etc). Thankfully the SDGs are good icebreakers on many subjects, Menstruation impacts many of the goals even though there is no specific indicator for it.
The Female Orator: A lot of school girls miss school because of their periods. How do you think this can be changed?
Government support in giving girls free or highly subsidized menstrual management products and reusable products made available to girls and adequate WASH and disposal facilities will go a long way in reducing the percentage of girls that miss schools because of their periods. Some counties in Kenya and some East African countries presently fully give free pads to girls in schools, with the toilets made more private and with WASH facilities. Doing this they have recorded increase in school attendance on all days.
The Female Orator: Working on the field do schools take note of the importance of school bathrooms and running water to attendance?
Sincerely, schools don’t take note of this. A few schools especially the high brow ones take cognizance of this but most schools don’t.
The Female Orator: In an ideal world, what is your hope for women and their periods?
My hope for women and girls and their period is more positivity around the discussion on periods (PeriodPositive), affordability of menstrual management products and end Period Poverty and freedom from stigma, discrimination and taboos that come with periods.
The Female Orator: If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing about what to expect when she started menstruation, what would you say?
My period is not dirty and I have a right to menstruate with dignity, free from stigma and restrictions.
The Female Orator: Tell us about your current project.
Presently we are test running the sewing and distribution of reusable Ankara pads and tampons in Akure, Ondo State at our SRHR hub. Feedback on the usage will help us apply for grants to make it bigger and better. Our dream is to be able to give out FREE reusable Ankara pads and tampons especially to girls and women of low-income families and rural areas.
To find out more about Blessings’ works follow her on Twitter @SuperGirlTimidi.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.