MIAMI — Giving schoolgirls in the developing world lessons on puberty and free sanitary pads can help boost their attendance at school and may offer them long-term economic benefits, a study said Wednesday. The report in the US journal PLOS ONE is based on research by the University of Oxford involving 1,000 girls at eight schools in Uganda. At two of the schools, girls were not given sanitary pads or puberty lessons to discuss how to manage their monthly periods.
At those schools, girls tended to miss, on average, the equivalent of three and a half days per month, according to the researchers.
Their levels of absenteeism were 17 percent higher than schools at which girls received pads, puberty education, or a combination of both, said the study. The research spanned 18 months and took place in the impoverished Kamuli district, a rural area with some of the highest illiteracy and fertility rates in the world.
“Many girls don’t know about periods before they encounter their first one,” said lead researcher Paul Montgomery from the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention.
“They are totally unprepared because they receive no information or training on how to manage them,” he added. “Just by giving girls lessons in puberty or a purpose-built sanitary pad means they were more likely to stay at school during their periods, minimizing the risk of disruption to their schooling.” An earlier pilot study in Ghana, also by the University of Oxford, found that the onset of menstruation appeared to set off a “sequence of negative events for girls, with implications for their health, safety, learning, fertility, community involvement, and economic autonomy,” according to the authors.
Menstruation is often taboo in developing countries and girls can have difficulty finding clean material to absorb their periods, leading to shame and stigma and causing many girls to stay home from their lessons. An education gender gap then develops, particularly in middle school and beyond. “In Uganda, only 22 percent of girls were enrolled in secondary schools compared with 91 percent of girls in primary schools, with those living in rural areas being the least likely group to go to school,” said the study. In the Kamuli district, just 54 percent of girls at the local secondary schools are able to read, compared with 69 percent of boys, it said. The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of a project called “Menstruation and the Cycle of Poverty,” in collaboration with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) University of London. “Simple interventions like these can have major long-term economic implications for women in low and middle income countries, which socially empowers them,” said Montgomery.