Puberty Education & Menstrual Hygiene Management: An Education Sector Responsibility
Puberty is a time of change for all young people, but it is particularly challenging for girls who are often unprepared for changes in their body, which can become a major obstacle to their education. In some parts of the world, two out of three girls reported having no idea of what was happening to them when they began menstruating.
This can have many negative effects on their physical and emotional development, leading to a drop in self-esteem and poor performance at school. According to a study in Ghana, 95% of girls reported sometimes missing school due to menstruation; and research in Ethiopia showed that 39% of girls reported reduced performance at school for the same reason. Often the lack of adequate toilet facilities at school, combined with fear and embarrassment further contribute to their disengagement from education at this crucial time in their lives.
With 593 million learners in primary – and every year a new cohort of learners reaching puberty -, schools are the ideal location to reach a large proportion of learners before puberty so that they are prepared for the changes. Yet, there is little systematic and comprehensive guidance on this subject for the education sector, including principals, teachers and parents.
The publication Puberty Education and Menstrual Hygiene Management, is the ninth volume in the UNESCO series Good Policy and Practice in Health Education that aims to help the education sector address these issues and improve the quality of education.
The publication identifies ways for all partners in the education sector to work together on puberty education and menstrual hygiene management starting in primary school. It also provides clear recommendations on what is required to remove the stigma associated with menstruation and offer opportunities to all girls to grow up to become fully empowered women. The publication puts forth a vision of puberty education that is skills-based, inclusive and comprehensive. It is part of a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum, which is part of a larger health curriculum, which is an integral part of a comprehensive school health approach.
“Girls who are afraid to go to school during menstruation have fewer chances of growing up to be fully empowered women,” argues Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO. “This publication is an important step in mobilizing the necessary global support for equality between girls and boys in education. We must mobilize educators, policy-makers, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector to support puberty education and menstrual hygiene management, an indispensable element in efforts to achieve gender equality and access to good education for all learners.”
The publication concludes by calling on ministries of education to: educate all learners, provide a safe environment, and connect learners to health services to achieve a high quality education for all.
UNESCO and Procter & Gamble have teamed up to launch the publication at the United Nations in New York. The launch will coincide with this year’s United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women meeting.