Keeping girls in school: menstrual hygiene management

Many women have strong memories from those days in adolescence when their period had just started – their mood was all over the place, they had cramps and wished for nothing more than to stay home from school in the comfort of their bed. Most of the time, after cajoling by parents or encouraging words from friends, they would make it out of bed, go to school and get through the day.

Now imagine if periods stopped girls from going to school every month, simply because they didn’t have access to pads or toilet facilities. In many parts of the world, menstruation is a barrier to education. It is the reason that some girls miss out on many days of school every year. It is the reason that some girls leave school altogether.

In some parts of Nepal, menstruation can even be a time of fear and dread, as many girls and women are exiled to makeshift dwellings or huts where they must stay until their period is over. This practice is called Chhaupadi and is rooted in the belief that menstrual blood is impure, and menstruating women cannot enter the house. The tradition is now illegal in Nepal, although is still practiced in many parts of the country, including the Humla district where Adara works.

Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is part of Adara’s holistic approach to health and education in Nepal. This involves making sure the schools we partner with have “period-friendly” toileting facilities, and health education for boys and girls to teach them about menstruation, menstrual hygiene, and how to manage periods so it doesn’t stop girls from attending school and getting an education.

In November 2018, Adara’s Health Manager, Menuka Rai, led a session on MHM for girls at Ghyangfedi School. Adara has been working with the remote community of Ghyangfedi since the devastating 2015 Nepal earthquake, first through disaster relief, and then through the construction and support for a government school which currently has 360 students. As part of Adara’s work with Ghyangfedi School, we carry out health check-ups for students and hold health education workshops.

Girls from Grades 6-9 were invited to attend Menuka’s MHM session.

“During the session we came to know that sanitary napkins are not readily available in Ghyangfedi and surrounding villages,” said Menuka. “Even if they are available, they are unaffordable.”

In these circumstances, girls and women will use sanitary napkins made from old clothes they have at home. These are often unhygienic and using the pads can result in disease.

“In our session, we distributed reusable sanitary pads to all the participants. This reusable napkin can be used for more than a year and is the most cost-effective option,” said Menuka. Menuka also taught the girls how to wash the pads and keep them clean and sanitary, and even how to make their own washable pads for personal use. Girls were encouraged to ask school staff for sanitary napkins at any time, making them less likely to stay at home. Adara has also constructed separate toilets for girls and boys, with easy access to water and soap, ensuring the school’s 171 female students have access to a hygienic and private environment.

“Since this programme, we have noticed that girls now don’t hesitate to discuss their problems. They are actively sharing their views, doubts, and ideas too,” said Menuka.

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