Empowering Girls And Breaking The Stigma Surrounding Menstruation
For years we have neglected speaking up about menstruation and menstrual hygiene with young girls. It has been a taboo topic in many communities, especially in the South Asian region. Parents and teachers should do away with the norm of considering periods and menstrual health and hygiene as taboo topics. In Sri Lanka, 66% of young girls are unaware of menstruation until menarche and 60% of parents do not allow their daughters to go to school during their periods.
It is extremely important that parents are open about periods and topics revolving around female health with their daughters. Not having open conversations can lead to young girls being ill-informed and misinformed, which would lead to decisions that may be risky to their health.
Lack of Openness and abundance of stigmatization
Work done by The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health shows that only a few girls seek help for menstrual issues (eg, heavy bleeding), because most are embarrassed about discussing the subject. This embarrassment is not due to the lack of knowledge on the topic but rather due to the culturally imposed restrictions that surround discussion of this topic.
Girls are afraid to talk to their parents about periods, because in the average South Asian household, mothers forbid their daughters from speaking about it – even with their own fathers and brothers. This makes girls feel ashamed to talk about it and express how they feel when they go through this natural process in life.
Drawing from my personal experiences, I suffered severe menstrual cramps for a very long time. It was extremely unbearable at times. I was more comfortable talking about it with my friends than with my mother. It was through my friends’ encouragement that I reached out to a gynecologist for help. I have had many of my friends go through similar experiences with their parents as well.
Another issue that I have noticed in Sri Lanka is the practice of wrapping sanitary napkins in newspaper or brown paper in many shops when purchased. Shop owners choosing to do this puts out the message that we should be embarrassed of carrying sanitary napkins in our hands and this must change.
Menstrual Health Education In Sri Lankan Schools
The problem does not stop there, unfortunately. This topic has not been adequately addressed in health or educational policies in Sri Lanka. For example, the school curriculum does not include menstruation until after the median age of menarche. In some schools, teachers choose to skip this subject completely.
I was schooling in Saudi Arabia when I first got my period. My education system at the time did not exclude the subject of reproduction, menstrual hygiene and health. Both girls and boys were taught the subject. Learning about it in school kept me well informed about the subject area. I myself coming from an Asian household was not taught about this at home; it was only at school and through friends that I learnt about menstrual health and hygiene. Our teachers would repeatedly tell us that there is nothing to be ashamed of in talking openly about this topic.
Studies have shown that “effective sexuality education is important because cultural value and religious beliefs play an important role in sharing young people’s understanding of sexual reproductive health related issues and their ability to manage relationships with their peers and adults”. In this study UNFPA had emphasized that “sexuality education is not about promiscuity or encouraging young people to have sexual relationships. On the contrary, it gives young people the opportunity to explore their values and attitudes while building the skills to make decisions, communicate with others, and reduce the health risks related to sexuality.”
A nationwide survey conducted in the years 2013 and 2014, which included over 8,000 young people aged 15 to 24 years, indicated that schools do very little to provide information on sexual reproductive health related issues and that the information that is available outside of school is either not accurate or beneficial.
It is imperative that this is taught to both girls and boys, because often it is considered a women’s issue that boys need not know. This will help combat the stigma that surrounds it.
A Taboo-free Way To Talk About Periods
In a TED talk by Aditi Gupta, she speaks about her project which introduced a more comfortable way of talking about periods with young girls, their parents, and teachers. She and her partner created a comic book with fun and engaging illustrations talking about periods. This project has been very successful and feedback from young girls, boys, parents and teachers showed that this was a great way of discussing this topic more comfortably.
Introducing such innovative methods of educating young girls and boys about periods is a great way to discuss this topic! Schools in Sri Lanka can also introduce such types of books to their students and include it in the school curriculum.
What Should We Do Moving Forward?
In order to educate young girls about this topic, it is first important that a child’s home and school creates a safe space to discuss these topics. This will increase the willingness to talk about menstrual health and hygiene, thus reducing risks and promoting better menstrual health. It is important that we start with ourselves and our homes. Make our girls understand at a young age why it is okay to discuss such topics. This also applies to young boys; parents should openly discuss these topics with them as well. This way girls will feel empowered and much more comfortable to discuss this topic with their family. Teachers should also change their perspective and move away from considering this a taboo topic. Young girls and boys should be taught about this in school and be given the freedom to ask questions. We should create a future where menstruation is discussed openly and girls feel comfortable to seek help and advice when needed.
Article by Gnei Sumhiya Sallay
- ‘Menstrual hygiene management in schools in South Asia’ (2018) https://washmatters.wateraid.org/sites/g/files/jkxoof256/
files/menstrual-hygiene-management-snapshot—sri-lanka.pdf Accessed 5th August 2021
- Thilini C Agampodi & Suneth B Agampodi, ‘Normalising menstruation, empowering girls: the situation in Sri Lanka’ (2018), Vol. 2, Issue 8, E16, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanchi/article/PIIS2352-4642(18)30201-3/fulltext#back-bib1 Accessed 5th August 2021
- ‘The Need for Comprehensive Reproductive Health Education (CRHE) for Youth in Sri Lanka’, UNFPA, (2017), Policy Issue 02, https://srilanka.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/NEW%20CRHE%20Policy%20Brief%20%283%29_0.pdf Accessed 16th August
- UNFPA Operational Guidance for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: A Focus on Human Rights and Gender (December, 2014) https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/UNFPA_OperationalGuidance_WEB3_0.pdf Accessed 10th August 2021
- A taboo-free way to talk about periods | Aditi Gupta https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaGEM-Rms48 Accessed 16th August 2021
The views expressed on this blog post are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Hashtag Generation.