Menstruation should be normalised in schools

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Representational image. Image: News18 Creative

When their periods arrive each month, millions of young women around the world are forced to endure a miserable cycle of pain, discomfort, shame, anxiety, and feeling isolated. Besides this, access to sanitary products is limited in many educational institutions, and waste disposal mechanisms, soap and water for washing, and safe, private, and accessible toilets are rarely available or sustainable.

Due to the lack of available facilities, stigma, and embarrassment associated with menstruation, many adolescent girls are forced to remain absent from school during this time. Consequently, a quarter of adolescent girls in resource-poor rural settings fail to take advantage of their educational opportunities.

Because of long-standing shame and taboos, menstruation is rarely talked about in families or schools, and girls often go through menarche without knowing what is going on. One promising approach to reducing stigma and educating both boys and girls about menstruation and puberty is having more open conversations about these experiences.

What could be a better way to do this than focussing on normalising menstruation in schools through education? Adequate menstrual hygiene management at school by making it a part of dialogue through the curriculum can help to avoid negative health consequences. Testimonies from students and teachers across the spectrum demonstrate the benefits of normalising menstrual hygiene in schools and the potential for change.

The secrecy surrounding menstruation, which is often seen as a shameful, dirty, female weakness, has permeated all aspects of society, nurturing superstitions and taboos that are passed down from one generation to the next. There needs to be a discussion about how menstruation is a natural and necessary part of a girl’s life if she is to develop into a healthy adult. This will significantly contribute to the implementation of changes essential for fostering the spread of desirable social norms and, ultimately, altering people’s behaviours.

Management of menstrual pain is a major issue for most girls, yet women who experience regular pain are often overlooked, let alone those who experience irregular or pathological periods. It is crucial to educate students about menstrual health and to do so in a timely manner.

To ensure that all students have access to opportunities to learn about menstrual hygiene management, it is possible to incorporate menstrual health into the existing health and Physical Education curriculum. Students need to know when and how to seek medical help, in addition to receiving broader forms of support. To normalise periods and eliminate the stigma associated with menstruation, teachers and school management can encourage students to participate in discussions and take action. Involving students in the school’s efforts can help normalise periods as well as end the shame that comes with it currently.

Starting from school, every girl in this country deserves to have an honest and open conversation about menstruation so that she doesn’t lose her chance at a good education and a promising future. To successfully alter the prevalent social norms of humiliation and bullying surrounding menstruation, it is essential that we also include boys and men in the discussion from the very beginning.

A child’s worldview is shaped in part by the education they receive at school. The institution lays the groundwork for the rest of society. To build on this solid groundwork, it is important to teach young girls about menstrual hygiene from an early age.

Several million young girls who drop out of school when they hit puberty could be unstoppable on their path to achieving their dreams if we began focussing on normalising mensuration in schools. Providing menstrual education to young children in India would not only make schools safer for female students but also raise a generation that views menstruation as a source of strength rather than embarrassment.

The author is a young sociopreneur and founder of Ujaas

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