Keeping girls in school through improved reproductive and menstrual health

3 min read
Girls in Papua New Guinea outside their new toilets
Image: School children in Papua New Guinea outside their new toilets

Menstrual health is a critical entry point for engaging adolescents in family planning service delivery.

The effects of a lack of clean water and decent toilets are felt most by women and girls. Many girls spend hours each day collecting water, which can leave them with little time to go to school. Those that do go may miss school or drop out entirely when they start to menstruate, simply because there isn’t anywhere to keep clean.

WaterAid and Marie Stopes International Australia (MSI) are working on an integrated health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) project that aims to contribute towards increased school retention in girls through reducing unintended pregnancies and improving menstrual health, while strengthening women-led business for the manufacture of accessible hygiene products in Timor- Leste and Papua New Guinea.

Together with MSI, we have continued to pilot new resources and implementation strategies and conducted research to develop cross-sectoral, evidence-based approaches to improving access to girl-friendly WASH facilities, menstrual products, education and reproductive health services.

I knew that I would have a period every month, but I didn't know that it meant that you could get pregnant,”  a 17-year-old mother from Liquisa, Timor-Leste.

 To date, through this project, we have reached 40,044 girls, boys, and adults with improved awareness of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and menstrual health practices, 8,239 women and girls are now using their choice of contraception and 1,710 students are accessing menstrual health-friendly WASH facilities at school. This reach also extends to supporting local small businesses, with over 1,400 locally produced, reusable menstrual health materials have been sold.

In Timor-Leste, the focus has been on supporting children and young people to learn about menstrual health and have better access to WASH in schools. Our team has created innovative ways to engage young people, such as phone hotlines to answer questions and youth corners set up in rural areas.

Before it was difficult to change our pads in the old toilets, so we used to go to the toilets by the sea because it is more private,”  a 15-year-old student in Central Province, Papua New Guinea

In Papua New Guinea the team supported the government to develop curriculum for school students to learn about menstrual hygiene in education. The curriculum follows best practice guidelines regarding inclusive language and age-appropriateness. The project also supported teachers through training on the materials and continuous support.

One teacher in PNG said

It gave us a lot of confidence. I see a lot of teachers that aren’t confident to share this type of information, but after this workshop everyone was open and felt free to discuss it. I can see big changes in the children, the way they think, the way they tend to respect each other. When a girl is having a period, it is normal. Unlike my previous experience of teaching, respect has come.