Though under-studied, Menstrual Health Management (MHM) is a topic that has recently gained traction in research and media. As a water, sanitation and hygiene issue, it has a more pronounced effect on the equity, quality and gratification of education of women and girls universally.
Menstrual Education for a Conducive Learning Environment
Integrating menstrual hygiene education into national school curricula, policies and programs for adolescents is key to creating a conducive learning environment for pupils and students. These consists of access to menstrual hygiene essentials, toilets and changing rooms, clean water and waste management, and good hygiene methods that include hand-washing with soap. If these are excluded, schools and homes become unhealthy, excluding and inadequate spaces for maturation and development.
The Generational Consequences of Premenstrual Ignorance
The start of menstruation is a major event in the life of a human being. While some people find those first drops of blood liberating, others may feel confused and scared as they do not know what is going on with their bodies. Teachers skip an important part of health education because their educators skipped it for them. This becomes a futile generational cycle of ignorance that silently reeks in our society. A report by WaterAid stated that 2 out of 3 girls in Ethiopia do not receive education about menstruation at school. This is a common global phenomenon. Evidently, the reproductive health freedoms of women and girls are tightly knit to their education rights.
Holistic Reproductive Health Education
Menstrual education is a necessity because girls are provided information on menstrual hygiene, so that they can feel confident to make informed decisions about how their reproductive health. A scholastic paper, Creating opportunities for girls' participation in education in Uganda, researched by FAWE Uganda reports that 1 out of 2 Ugandan girls report missing one to three days of school per month due to menstruation.
Pre-menstrual education enables girls to stay in school by ensuring knowledge about hygienic menstrual products and disposal options. When girls learn about menstrual hygiene, they learn about a variety of reusable period collection methods. Menstrual cups and cloth pads sustainably equip women and girls to maintain their period on a budget, while minding the environment.
A Referendum for Education Curriculum
The education curriculum should be subjected to considerable amendments. The access to quality literature on reproductive health should be mandatory in primary and secondary schools. Quality literature has the capacity to inform, entertain and update pupils and students about the variant WASH facilities available in their context.
Available Quality Menstrual Education Literature
A good example of a quality menstrual book is the Menstrupedia Comic - A Friendly Guide to Periods. Written for the Indian context, Menstrupedia teaches young girls and their teachers about menstrual health. Initiated by Aditi Gupta, Menstrupedia is an effective period-positive comic book illustrated for pre-teen and teen girls. Published in 2015, this comic book is translated from English, Tahir and Spanish. Supplemented with animated video tutorials for teachers, parents and MHM educators, Menstrupedia is an 88-paged indisputable quality literature distributed widely and subsidised fairly for schools and groups.
Other books that teach about menstruation include: The Period Book: A Girl’s Guide to Growing Up, Tunu’s Gift: An African Tale about Menstrual Health, and Girls Only!: All about Periods and Growing-up Stuff. Educated African women are better able to care for their own health and that of their families.They are in a better position to secure employment, be in charge of their reproductive health and command higher rewards for their work.
Ecological Effects on the Early Onset of Periods
On average, most folks start their periods when they are 12 or 13 years old. However, recent studies show that some girls are experiencing menarche at the tender age of 8 due to varying ecological changes. Waiting until girls gets their period to inform them about their reproductive make-up is an ignorant risk. Not only will the young girls learn that menstruation is a natural and healthy process, but it will also aid teachers and instructors deal with the embarrassment that they may have discussing about topic.
Storytelling for Reproductive Health Education
So, how do you discuss menstruation and offer education, as well as guidance and support, before the big day arrives? To avoid overwhelming pre-teens with a cluster of information, smaller conversations about how the human female body operates should be continuous process. Saturating the wide subject of reproductive health into a two-hour conversation can be too much for a young child to bear. Short talks, stories and even videos can encourage children reaching puberty to learn about the basic science of the human body without pressure.
Breaking Negative Social Norms
Throughout childhood, children ask many questions. This is an opportunity for parents and guardians to advance their children's knowledge. Doing so informs them that their elders are available for these discussions. This breaks negative social norms and provides accurate information and support about reproductive health.
Acknowledging Differences by Teaching Sensitivities
Explaining that everyone is different is also key. For instance, a young girl may be worried why she is not growing at the same pace as her friends. With the access of the internet, children may learn that people of all genders experience menstruation. Instead of casting these sensitive issues to the side and assuming that they will learn when they learn, story-telling with the aid of quality literature can give a child the confidence, knowledge and sensitivities to manoeuvre through life.
The Wholeness of Reproductive Health Freedom
Menstruation is the biological indicator that pregnancy has not occurred. When an individual gets their period, it means that the egg that was released from her ovary was not successfully fertilized and implanted in the uterus, and the uterine lining is being shed from the body. Talking about this with adolescents engages the important conversation of consent, and mitigated early pregnancy.
Puberty and the general inception of menstruation provides a window of opportunity to educate young adolescents about the changes occurring in their body. At the same time, they get to learn about their reproductive systems, fertility, contraception, and even the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.
Menstrual hygiene education should be part of an expanded agenda for sexual and reproductive health services. Sometimes we do not have the words for this sensitive topic. However, having access to literature that is dedicated to telling accurate and relatable stories about menstrual and reproductive health fills that gap. The more we read, the more we learn.
MremboSafi is a practising writer and visual artist presently based at Kuona Trust Centre for the Visual Arts in Nairobi, Kenya. An avid advocate of reproductive health and Nubian women’s art, her present media of preference include: digital art (photography & visual FX), writing non-fiction literature, menstrala art. Her motif is themed around menstrual health rights.