Menstrual Health and Hygiene for Adolescent Girls: A Guide for Parents and Educators

Team ujaas

Having a conversation on menstrual health and menstrual hygiene with your adolescent child can prove to be quite tricky; that said, your daughters must know what is precisely happening in their bodies prior to the menarche or first period. Hence, it is in everyone’s interest for parents and educators to have conversations on menstruation with adolescent girls.

  • Around 1.8 billion adolescent girls, women, transgender men, as well as non-binary individuals belonging to the reproductive age menstruate throughout the world. Menstruation is a natural biological process of life and a recurring, monthly occurrence; however, basic understanding and awareness of what happens to one’s body is highly limited.
  • With cultural taboos, gender inequality, lack of basic hygiene facilities, and poverty, most of the needs of young adolescent girls are often not met.
  • Transgender men as well as non-binary persons (who menstruate) frequently face discrimination because of their gender identity, which eventually prevents them from gaining access to menstrual materials and facilities that are needed.

Ujaas, a menstrual health and menstrual hygiene initiative of Aditya Birla Education Trust (ABET), was founded with a mission to eradicate period shame by spreading awareness of periods among adolescent girls in rural India.

While schools can play a vital role in timely education for both boys and girls regarding menstrual hygiene, parents, too, must engage in conversations around this “supposedly taboo” subject to ensure optimum health, wellbeing, and equal learning opportunities for their children.

Parents play a key role during the formative years of their children, thoroughly educating them, and leaving a positive impression will immensely contribute to the development of the child as well as empower them to make the right decisions as an adult.

Health Talk on Menstrual Hygiene

Most young individuals have their first period between the ages of 11 and 15; that said, anytime between 9 and 16 years is deemed to be normal. Hence, it is ideal to converse with your child during this period.

Ujaas, a menstrual health and menstrual hygiene initiative of ABET, conducts workshops for school children so that they are armed with the right knowledge about menstruation.

Though there exists no right way to begin such a conversation, a young menstruator would surely want to know more about the following:

  • What precisely is menstruation and how common is its occurrence?
  • What is the duration of a period and what to eventually expect?
  • How to follow menstrual hygiene management practices?
  • Period-care products that are available: sanitary pads, menstrual cups, tampons, period panties
  • How to tackle periods when they are away from home?

When it comes to health talk on menstrual hygiene, it is vital to create a safe space, which is free of taboos and judgements. After the initial stage of embarrassment subsides, encourage your child to pose questions and stimulate their curiosity.

Moreover, it is extremely crucial to prepare adolescent girls for periods practically. It is a fine idea to show your child what sanitary pads, tampons, period panties, and menstrual cups look like as well as ways to use them and dispose of them. Although one can make use of tampons and menstrual cups at any age, it may take some time and practice to get accustomed to them. Hence, it would be much easier to commence their menstrual journey with period panties or sanitary pads before making use of a menstrual cup or tampon.

Moreover, it would be highly beneficial for them to develop the habit of keeping track of their periods. When your child commences menstruating, encouraging them to maintain a calendar will help them know when to expect their next period. In such a way, they would be adequately prepared for school camps, sleepovers, or sports events conducted by schools.

This brings us to the next section, a guide for educators when it comes to menstrual hygiene management.

Health Education Menstrual Hygiene in Schools

To increase awareness of the indispensable need for sufficient and adequate menstrual hygiene management for adolescent girls (both in and beyond schools) and in a bid to break taboos as well as the stigma that surrounds menstruation, Menstrual Hygiene Day was successfully launched in collaboration with a wide array of partners, such as the World Bank.

Menstrual health as well as hygiene management involves many interventions that go far beyond merely interventions in school, but successfully provide girls with knowledge about menstruation, sanitary products, and facilities to properly comprehend and manage their menses. These timely interventions are eventually tied to adequate sexual as well as reproductive health for adolescent girls during puberty

Schools in India

Schools in rural India continue to face tough challenges in ensuring that they have adequate facilities for girls. A study conducted by the World Bank stressed the need for privacy, safety, cleanliness, and availability of water rather than the existence of a mere separate toilet.

Even if toilets are successfully separated for both male and female students, adequate hygiene conditions need running water and soap. The creation of doors on toilet latrines that close and lock efficiently provides further privacy for menstruating girls. Moreover, adequate disposal facilities are required in such toilets for sanitary products, which are often lacking.

Besides physical facilities, period poverty is a challenge, too, that India has yet to overcome. Period poverty involves a wide array of factors that keeps menstruating women in poverty, including a severe lack of both affordable and high-quality sanitary products, improper facilities to manage their periods, lack of info, and the stigma associated with menstruation. Schools are ideal locations where girls can be offered these products as well as facilities, but are, often, not.

The Bottomline

When it comes to health education in menstrual hygiene, sufficient and adequate information regarding menstruation, puberty, and hygiene management can be offered at schools, as an integral part of or separate from sexual and reproductive health education. That said, a high percentage of adolescent girls do not receive sufficient information  before they get their first period. This calls for a massive movement in the fight against both period poverty and period shame.