Tuesday, 3 October, 2023

Exploring the Link between Menstrual Hygiene and School

Ridwana Nahrin and Progga Laboni Chowdhury

Over the years, the government of Bangladesh has taken many initiatives and interventions to encourage girls to return to school. However, hardly any attention is paid to absenteeism that occurs during a girl's menstruation period every month. After the Covid-19 pandemic, schools have restarted with extra classes to cover up the learning gaps and it is high time to address the menstrual health and hygiene-related taboos, raise awareness and provide facilities to ensure proper learning outcomes and presence at school.

According to the study “Menstrual hygiene practices and school absenteeism among adolescent girls in Bangladesh” conducted in lower-income communities, 41% of adolescent girls who reach menarche are missing classes an average of 2.8 days in every menstruation cycle due to the lack of knowledge, proper facilities and menstrual management support at school.

In an ongoing baseline survey of a project of IDRC and KIX, titled Effectiveness and Scalability of Programs for Children who are Out of School and At Risk of Dropping Out in Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, it is found that among 295 secondary school students, 87.42% are menstruating and about 45% are being absent from school for at least the first 2 days of the monthly cycle in general and about 10% of girls prefer not to attend school for the whole menstruating days. Most girls explain their absences as a result of discomfort, sickness, shyness, or to avoid embarrassing mishaps in class. Even though many girls know menstruation is a normal physiological process, they lack knowledge of the menstrual cycle and basic menstrual hygiene. The majority of adolescent girls do not have prior knowledge about menstruation, and they feel shy, scared, embarrassed, and consider it taboo. 36% of them think that menstruation is not a normal physiological process. About 55% answered that the source of menstrual blood is the abdomen, whereas only 15% could answer it correctly. Regarding the duration and cycle, the majority of the students answered correctly. But a considerable number of students (19.67%) think that the duration is of 3-4 days, which explains their lack of menstrual knowledge.

One of the study schools even lacks separate toilets for female students, and other schools lack hygiene materials and available services for students. The toilets at some schools have open baskets in the common area where the students can dispose of their menstrual pads, but students do not feel comfortable disposing of their pads in those spaces. While collecting data, a few girls mentioned that they were advised not to dispose of pads in the bins. It is alarming that due to the lack of privacy and an effective management system, more than 95% of girls do not change their pads during long school hours. Because of the tendency to avoid the school toilets during periods, there is a tendency for students to be absent from school. The schools do not have a proper disposal system for sanitary pads, so girls who have to change them during school hours dispose of them in toilet pans, in open spaces such as drains, or carry the used pads back to their homes until they can dispose of them.

The fact that most girls are using sanitary pads is an encouraging sign. However, some girls still use old or new clothes or tissue, which should be cleaned and dried properly to prevent urinary tract infections. Above 80% of the students use sanitary napkins, while around 7% of the students still use old clothes. Typically, sanitary pads must be changed every 3 to 6 hours, depending on the flow, to avoid irritation and health risks. There is also the issue of sanitary pads not being eco-friendly, and the possibility of infection being spread if they are thrown into the environment and are not disposed of correctly. Another significant issue that came to light in the survey is that many girls avoid fish, eggs and sour fruits during their periods. However, a balanced diet is actually very crucial for the effective management of Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms.

Menstrual hygiene knowledge and practice are crucial for maintaining good health and preventing absenteeism among girls and women. Menstruation is a natural process, but a lack of knowledge and inadequate menstrual hygiene practices can lead to several health problems and negatively impact academic performance. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), poor menstrual hygiene can lead to vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, and cervical cancer. In addition, girls who do not have access to sanitary products are more likely to use unhygienic materials, such as cloth or paper, which can further increase the risk of infection.

To conclude, girls' school absence is increased due to negative attitudes, incorrect beliefs about menstruation and inadequate facilities in schools. Bangladeshi girls hardly talk about their periods freely, even though they are an important part of the transition from girlhood into womanhood. This is critically imperative to end period stigma and prevent girls from dropping out of school because of it. In addition, male students and teachers are needed to be more sensitive and knowledgeable about menstrual hygiene to create a healthy and encouraging environment in schools.


The writers are the Assistant Research Coordinator and a Research Assistant respectively at South Asian Institute for Social Transformation (SAIST)