Overview of Menstrual Education
Most who work in this field seem to agree that menstrual education falls short even in developed countries (for example, see this description of the lack of menstrual education in the U.S. and this from the U.K.) Lack of information can mean that a girl is less likely to learn about healthy self-care and may be less likely to maintain a positive self-regard about their rapidly changing bodies and lives.
That can be cause for concern anywhere in the world. However, as with most issues, poverty can add extra challenges into the mix (i.e., little extra money for MHM books, overworked teachers and school administrators, inadequate bathroom facilities, less access to commercial menstrual products by girls, and so on.)
Options for Learning about Menstruation
School-aged children tend to learn about menstruation in one or more of the following ways, and the quality of what they learn – and their comfort with that information – can vary accordingly.
- HOME: An ideal starting point for learning about menstruation for many girls can be in the home, especially when relatives are comfortable discussing the topic and have been well-educated about it themselves, and especially when those discussions start long before menstruation actually takes place. Home-based discussions cannot be taken for granted, however, especially in places where education is limited and/or where menstrual stigma is considerable.
- WRITTEN MATERIALS: Books and online sources can address menstruation. However, girls and women need to know to look for them, and need to have physical and economic access to them. Both issues can be a challenge anywhere, all the more for non-English speakers due to the more limited number of resources written in languages other than English.
- PEERS: The downsides of having to rely on peer-based communication around sexual and reproductive health are well known. Myths and inaccuracies tend to be pervasive in such discussions. However, for better or for worse, information from peers about menstruation often fills the information vacuum when more reliable sources of information are not available.
- EXTRACURRICULAR CLUBS: Some after-school activities and clubs focused on girls bring in speakers to discuss menstruation-related topics. While this practice would seem to be a great area of opportunity, it seems to be relatively rare as a practice. Most formal learning on this topic tends to occur through schools, if it occurs at all.
- SCHOOLS: Schools vary in whether they consistently teach students about puberty at all. Even if sexual and reproductive health issues are part of the curriculum, menstruation is sometimes ignored entirely, or only briefly covered. Moreover, the quality of any menstrual education can vary considerably in terms of accuracy, consistency, and depth of coverage, even within a given school.
- Boys are even less likely than girls to get educated about menstruation, and that is thought to help to contribute to the perpetuation of menstrual stigma within society. Most in the field view that as a problem that needs to be rectified; however, including boys in menstrual education is not always an easy or costless fix.
- Differently-abled / disabled children may be less likely to get menstrual (and sexual and reproductive health education, more broadly) than their non-disabled peers. They also may need more individualized instruction due to specific mental and/or physical challenges they face.
- Menstrual and sexual and reproductive health education for mothers and for fathers is relatively rare. However, logic suggests that it may help to decrease menstrual stigma in communities, improve informal education in homes, increase the access of girls to high-quality menstrual products, and/or more generally improve community recognition of the needs of girls and women.
In Schools where Menstruation is Addressed
Within school school systems that choose to address topics pertaining to menstruation, a variety of different approaches tend to be utilized. Moreover, there is often considerable variation among individual classrooms as to the type and quality of menstrual education that gets delivered.
CLASSROOM TEACHERS DELIVER THE CONTENT:
- OVERVIEW: In some schools, each teacher is responsible for educating her/his own students about menstruation. Sometimes teachers create their own curricula; in other other cases, schools, school districts, and/or national educational boards provide it to teachers.
- PROS: Schools and/or teachers can localize the information to be culturally relevant to the area in question. Requires no coordination with outside organizations to deliver the information.
- CONS: Curriculum development and materials (books, brochures, etc.) can be costly. There can be considerable variation between teaching styles and quality of information conveyed. Menstrual shame felt by a given teacher may be conveyed to students. Students may not be comfortable asking their regular teacher questions about personal topics, perhaps especially when the classroom teacher is male.
OUTSOURCE TO AN EDUCATION-FOCUSED ORGANIZATION:
- OVERVIEW: Some MHM organizations will send trained educators in to deliver menstrual education and/or puberty education curricula developed by that organization.
- PROS: With that approach, content quality can be better assured. Moreover, students often feel more comfortable approaching someone other than their teacher (who is often male) with questions, and may feel more comfortable with an educator (usually female) who specializes in this topic.
- CONS: Annual visits to a given school can be costly for the school and/or for the organization donating its time and resources to a school. Continuity can be a problem if the curriculum is not delivered annually at a given school, which can be a costly commitment for an organization.
OUTSOURCE TO A PRODUCT PRODUCER:
- OVERVIEW: Some menstrual-product producers include menstrual education as part of their mission, either by providing written materials and/or by training teachers, or providing trained educators to deliver educational content. They often do so while delivering a full or partial supply of menstrual products to students as part of the school-based training sessions they provide.
- PROS: Girls in low-income areas can receive educational content and menstrual products to which they would likely not have access otherwise.
- CONS: Even though organizations usually cover the costs of these sessions, there is often an explicit or implicit “upselling” component to them. Even when that is avoided, there still tends to be little focus on the the hygienic use of non-commercial / homemade menstrual products that may be prevalent in a given community or even preferred by a given user. Additionally, where distribution of a limited supply of disposable products is part of the school visit, ethical issues can emerge (Will girls use the products for longer than the recommended time period so they last longer? Is it fair to increase preference for a desirable product that a girl may not be able to be able to afford to buy again after they run out of their free supply? And so on.)
- OVERVIEW: Some organizations train local school teachers and/or community members about how to deliver menstrual education. This helps to assure continuity of education across years.
- PROS: Continuity of menstrual education is better assured, as it does not require an annual commitment on the part of the organization in question. Train-the-Trainer sessions can give teachers confidence in discussing the topic, and help to dispel menstrual myths common in different communities.
- CONS: The quality of education any given child receives can still vary to some degree according to a particular teacher’s comfort and fluency with the topic, even after training. A girl who is uncomfortable talking with their regular teacher about these topics may not be able to learn as much about the material as she could from a female teacher coming in from outside of her school.
- FOOD FOR THOUGHT: A few organizations teach community members (usually female), rather than school teachers, to deliver menstrual education. Sometimes they pay those women to deliver the curriculum. This can increase costs (both in terms of labor and coordination), but it can avoid the issue of students being unwilling to talk to their regular classroom teacher about these issues. It can also increase the number of informed stakeholders throughout communities.
Puberty Education Resources on IMHER
Database of organizations engaging in menstrual education. This includes organizations for which menstrual education is a significant or primary focus (many of these organizations also appear in our product databases.)
Database of trainer resources. This database includes all of the resources we have been able to find online to date that are designed to train educators about how to educate people (girls, women, boys, and/or men) about menstruation, or about how to make their own pads. Some reports are included here, if they address education in an applied way. In our database, the resources are searchable by country of origin and language, among other filters when using a computer (not a mobile device). All resources are available online through the organization that produced it, subject to their own copyright and usage restrictions.
Database of learner resources. This database includes materials for direct use by learners (usually kids, and mostly girls, in practice.) In our database, they are searchable by country of origin and language, among other filters when using a computer (not mobile device). All resources are available online through the organization that produced it, subject to their own copyright and usage restrictions.
Database of digital storytelling resources. This database includes sources we have been able to find to date that visually illustrate challenges around menstruation, usually by putting it in the the words of menstruators themselves. Most of the stories in our database are in the form of videos.