Adequate menstrual hygiene facilities with free hygiene products and timely education for boys and girls on menstrual health are crucial school interventions to ensure health, well-being and equal opportunity of learning. On Menstrual Hygiene Day, celebrated on 28 May, WHO/Europe is calling on countries to redouble their efforts to strengthen menstrual hygiene measures in schools to prevent adverse health outcomes. health.
Poor menstrual hygiene can lead to urinary or genital tract infections and affect students’ well-being. Girls may avoid going to school during their period for fear of bullying and inadequate sanitation. In case of discomfort and menstrual pain, they cannot concentrate. In many countries in the European Region, lack of privacy and inadequate toilet doors or stalls pose a challenge for girls during their periods. Lack of affordable menstrual products can also be a problem. For example, according to a survey by Plan International UK in 2017, 1 in 10 girls in the UK could not afford menstrual hygiene products, which affected their school attendance. Since then, the country has taken steps to make these products more affordable. Data from other countries are still insufficient.
WHO/Europe is working with countries to assess the problem, support capacity building, accelerate improvements in water and sanitation in schools and promote policies to ensure safe, hygienic and dignified menstruation .
From students to teachers, testimonies from across the Region show the benefits of normalizing menstrual hygiene in schools and the possibilities for change.
Support needed to provide menstrual health education
“As a school principal, I believe that menstrual health and hygiene education should be a priority to meet the needs of our girls in school,” said school principal Ivana Orolicki from Serbia.
“Talking openly about menstruation and puberty and educating boys and girls would be a promising step in reducing feelings of shame and discomfort around this topic,” she added.
“Providing students with adequate and timely information and promoting menstrual health is of utmost importance. Teachers and school staff should be trained to provide this type of support. I want the teachers at my school to become a reference for students on menstruation issues. But to achieve this goal, schools need more support. Due to many competing priorities, capacity and resources continue to lag behind, as well as lack of attention to menstrual hygiene management,” she concluded.
Breaking taboos around menstruation
“It’s important for students to ask questions and seek out people who can answer them without judgment or taboo,” said Lara Dal Santo, a middle school science teacher in Italy who educates about menstrual health.
“The first task for my students is to write down anonymously all the questions they’ve always wanted to ask but never had the courage to do so. During the following sessions, I try to answer them and break down the ideas received on menstrual hygiene. After the initial awkwardness, students become extremely curious, thirsty for information and more comfortable sharing their problems and doubts,” she said.
“We have also installed a table with menstrual hygiene products in the girls’ toilets to provide a ‘safe space’ where students can find what they need, and they don’t have to feel bad about it. comfortable asking for them,” she added. “Students keep the table stocked with products throughout the school year. These activities have helped break cultural and societal taboos about menstruation.
Educate both students and teachers
“The other day, when a friend noticed I was in a bad mood at school, he asked me, ‘Do you have your strawberry week?’ The fact that he avoided talking about menstruation made me feel like it was something to hide. If we don’t feel well because of our periods, some teachers still reply that we should control ourselves. Maybe teachers should organize awareness workshops on the subject,” said Greta, a German high school student.
“I wish we could have sanitary bins and menstrual hygiene products in all the toilet cubicles so that we don’t have to ask for them, which is very inconvenient. There is only one toilet with these produced in my school, and they are often sold out. There are only sanitary bins in every other toilet. One of the students has cleverly marked these bin toilets with a small cross in pencil. But all the girls don’t know what the crosses mean,” she explained.
Make hygiene products affordable for everyone
“Periods are a natural function of the body. It is unacceptable for girls to be stigmatized for menstruating, or for missing school because they cannot afford menstrual hygiene products, a necessity not a luxury as they are often treated. We wanted to raise awareness of the difficulties in accessing menstrual hygiene products,” said Aimee, a former high school student in Scotland.
“We received training to teach menstruation to young students. Menstrual products are now available free of charge in all washrooms at our school. It is important that girls can collect these products without asking teachers,” she said. “As my classmates and I leave high school, we are now passing the baton to younger students so they can continue this important work and ensure the messages continue.”
Menstrual Hygiene Day is a global advocacy platform to promote menstrual health and hygiene for all women and girls.