A survey conducted by Youth Ki Awaaz and Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council shows that 80% of menstruating respondents felt one or the other negative emotions when they first experienced their periods, with fear, anxiety and anger ranking 23%, 22% and 15% respectively. Surprisingly, 0.2% of the respondents also experienced emotions like happiness, joy, fascination, relief and excitement.
Mesnstruators in different parts of the world experience different emotions during their first menstruation. It is not uncommon that some admit that they don’t know what is happening to them when they start their first period. Because they are not prepared, they use words such as ‘scared’, afraid’, ‘clueless’ and ‘anxious’, to describe their experience. There is a need for a real-world education, comprehensive sexuality education about menstruation for all students in primary and secondary schools and all parents. Menstruation talks should not be limited to science and biology classes and should cover emotional, social, practical and physical aspects.
Comprehensive Sexuality Education Is The Way
The ever-present stigma and taboos that menstruators face impact significantly how they understand and experience menstruation. Women are always expected to be the main source of menstruation information. Parents are unprepared, uncomfortable and under-resourced to give their children talks on menstruation. Therefore, it is difficult to alleviate the negative attitudes that surround menstruation.
The impact of shame and stigma around menstruation is a cross-cutting issue felt by the majority of menstruating girls, women and transgender. Given the taboo across menstruation, discussions and sharing of knowledge on menstrual and hygiene management practices are very limited. The study by Youth Ki Awaaz also found that only 24.5% of the respondents felt comfortable discussing menstruation with their family. Moreover, 54% of the respondents felt comfortable only with female members of their family while 21% were not at all comfortable in discussing menstruation.
Integrating comprehensive sexuality education in and out of school programmes and using relevant training materials which emphasizes that menstruation experience is unique to everyone and includes challenges and healthy and unhealthy symptoms will enable and empower girls and boys to openly discuss menstruation topics with peers and parents. Comprehensive sexuality education for parents should tackle how they can talk about menstruation with their children. Likewise, the CSE for children should be informative and tackle changes which occur in their bodies.
Listen To Menstruators
Lack of knowledge and understanding about their own bodies when reaching the first menstruation and puberty without sufficient resources and emotional support affect girls’ and women’s health squarely. Negative attitudes towards menstruation and related sexual harassment can affect girls’ self-esteem and self-worth thereby lowering their ambitions in life. The silence surrounding menstruation also leads to a lack of knowledge about menstrual hygiene management.
It is high time people change the conversation, give menstruators a healthy environment to share their experience on menstruation because they are experts of their own experiences. Young people living with disability and those living with poverty need to be put at the heart of menstruation discussion so as to come up with clear solutions on their menstruation status. In addition, comprehensive sexuality education should be embraced to ensure the menstruation topic remains high on the agenda and that taboos are wed out by making it an everyday topic.
Okoth Paul Okoth is the Kenyan Regional Ambassador to Tunza Eco-generation. He is part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program and an intern with Youth Cafe.