Last week, the Ministry of Education and Sports issued a guideline on menstrual hygiene management in schools. As the statement rightly pointed out, menstrual management is a key issue that affects the retention and performance of girls in schools.
In many conservative societies, menstruation is considered a taboo and, therefore, seldom discussed. Because of the cultural myths associated with it, girls face a lot of challenges – in some cultures they are considered unclean, which affects their social life, self-esteem and performance in school.
For instance, the ministry noted that traditionally, menstruating women and girls are wrongly considered to be ‘contaminated, dirty and impure’. As a result, girls suffer stigma due to, among others, lack of materials for managing menstrual hygiene; absence of private space and washrooms; and inappropriate facilities for disposal of used materials, physical and psychological pains during menstrual periods.”
While efforts have been made to help girls stay in school during their menstrual periods, there is little to show for these efforts.
In May, 2014, for instance, women MPs called for mandatory provision of sanitary towels for all school girls under Universal Primary Education programme. In the same month, civil society activists launched a campaign to help school-going girls get free sanitary towels. Such initiatives should be supported.
Poor menstrual hygiene management has life-long impact on girls because many girls skip classes during their menstrual period and others eventually drop out of school. According to the 2012 menstrual hygiene management survey, six out of 10 girls miss school for half a week every month during their menses because of fear of shame and lack of hygienic facilities at school to freshen up.
To improve access to menstrual hygiene management, parents and schools should ensure that girls get the necessary information and guidance on the basics of menstrual management.
Secondly, schools should implements the guidelines issued by the ministry, especially the provision of separate (clean) toilet facilities for boys, girls, and children with disabilities; washroom and changing room facilities for girls; access to water, emergency changing uniforms; sanitary towels; guidance and counselling services, among others.
For the ministry’s comprehensive guideline to succeed, schools will need the support of not just government but parents as well. Parents, especially mothers, should be the first people to give their daughters guidance on menstrual hygiene management.
More importantly, schools should collaborate with NGOs and individuals who can supply them with cheaper pads and teach girls how to make their own re-usable pads.