Posted on: 19 March 2018
Just two months ago Plan International UK released a detailed and comprehensive study on girls’ experiences of menstruation in the UK. Although the full report warrants a reading in and of itself, we at Freda thought it important that we offer a couple quick summaries to our readers, underlining just how menstruation education is failing our children to be equipped for adult life. It is also important that we do think about the situation in the UK: often, we pay close attention to the global problems women face, and rightfully so. Indeed, in the very same study, Plan present some shocking facts about the treatment of periods worldwide. For example, it is noted that 20% of girls in rural India leave school after their first period, and that 48% of girls in Iran think menstruation is a disease. However, as Plan point out, some of the issues faced across the world do not differ from those in the UK, where woman still combat issues of taboo, stigma, access, pain management and education about periods. It is the last factor that Plan focuses on most closely, highlighting that a lack of education about menstruation can in fact be the root cause of all the other problems women face.
For example, in English academies, neither PSHE nor Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) are compulsory. In Northern Ireland, there is no uniform RSE provision. In Scotland, Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood (RSHP) is still not compulsory for denominational schools. In Wales, primary schools are not required to provide sex education as part of the basic curriculum.
Even in places where education was provided, across the board Plan stated that many felt that the teaching was inadequate. For example, Maria, 18, said: “We just watched this weird video in Year 6”. For those who started their period later in England, there was also missing information. Leah, 17, said: “Also they should make it clear that your period might not start right away, the only lessons are in Year 5 and my period started in Year 11 – that’s quite a long time to be sat there waiting with no information.”
There was also the prevailing issue of the education failing to explain and account for the emotional nature of menstruation. In Northern Ireland, the consensus was that the first period was shocking and terrifying. Monica, 15, said: “Like ‘Oh my God, am I going to die!?’ I didn’t have a clue what was happening at all, I just felt like, what’s happening!” Indeed, there seems to be a gap, between what Maria, 18, calls “the social side, like pain, the reality of having a period, and the scientific”. This was view showed up frequently among the male participants. Ben, 18, said: “In Year 7 you had the biology with the menstrual cycle with what day, but nothing else.”
This is an even more profound problem for those with disabilities, who, without the right skills and knowledge, will find it even more challenging to understand the changes occurring in their bodies. Approximately 7% of the UK have disabilities, yet, according to a survey conducted by Leonard Cheshire in 2010, 44.5% of disabled people did not receive any sex education at school. This suggests that a significant number of disabled children are not learning about menstruation, meaning it becomes a traumatic moment when it happens for the first time. It is clear that the education system is failing to teach children about the reality of periods. Efforts must be taken to resolve this problem, which becomes even more negatively entrenched when one considers the stigma surrounding menstruation that is reinforced in schools. As a part of the same report Plan highlight the taboo-nature of periods and emphasise its negative effects. It is this element of menstruation education that we at Freda will be looking at next.