Menstruation is a normal biological process and a key sign of reproductive health, yet in many cultures it is regarded as something negative, shameful and dirty. The continued silence around it combined with limited access to information at home and in schools results in millions of women and girls having very little knowledge about what is happening to their bodies when they menstruate and how to deal with it.
Menstruation is generally a taboo across many cultures hence fundamental issues surrounding it are ignored. These issues affect women and girls immensely in various aspects of life. The girls are seriously affected by menstrual hygiene management issues in schools hence it has become a serious barrier or threat to their education. Studies have shown that girls miss school for an average of 4.9to 10 days when it is that time of the month and if this is calculated on an annual scale a girl child misses school for an average of 9o days which is equivalent to one full school term. This implies that in one academic year a girl child only attends school for two terms as compared to the boys who attend all the three terms in an academic year.
Prominent among the reasons attributed to this situation is the inadequate information on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and lack of infrastructure in schools which can provide privacy for the girls to freely and comfortably change their sanitary pads and tampons, clean themselves or even take a bath,limited access to affordable and hygienic sanitary materials and disposal options. Some schools have toilets for girls but they do not provide privacy hence the girls prefer to stay home where they can manage privacy with less difficulties.
Some girls narrate of embarrassing incidences when they messed up themselves with blood during that time of the month in class and the boys laughed at them. This has a great impact and effect on their level of performance as their self-esteem, confidence and to a larger extent their academic performance is affected.
People’s Action Forum (PAF) has been working closely with the girls in community schools to help address their plight in relation to menstrual hygiene management. In 2014 PAF, with support of UNICEF, began installation of grill doors for 75 latrines designed to help provide total privacy for girls in 25 schools. These grill doors have a special locking system that allows the girls to lock from inside and use the latrine freely when they need to. The doors are also covered fully with a metal sheet hence no one can see inside the toilet and is high enough to prevent anyone from peeping through the top.
And the girls talked to have really appreciated this innovation as it makes it possible for them to stay in school right through the month. More of such facilities are needed in schools if girls are to have equal opportunity and access to education as the boys.
PAF looks forward to working with more partners to ensure that menstruation is not an excuse and a barrier to girl’s education.
“I hate menstruation because I have to miss my school during those days and I love my school. My school does not have any facilities where I can change and dispose menstrual waste. On those days my mother always forces me to stay at home,”
“Poor menstrual hygiene is a challenge faced by half of the reproductive-aged girls in Zambia’s schools,” said USAID/Zambia Mission Director Dr. Susan K. Brems.“It does not only affects a girl’s physical health and education, but also her social and mental well-being. Together, we can break the silence and start the conversation about good menstrual hygiene management that ensures women and girls manage their menses in a safe, private, and dignified way.”
By Lindsay Memory Mwansa and
Muleya Chiboola (PAF 2017).
-(UNESCO 2013, Puberty Education and Menstrual Hygiene Management).