By Feenzu Sherpa

In Nepal, girls are struggling to stay in school, especially in rural areas, as lack of menstrual health and female health education; poor access to sanitary products; and non-facilitating school environment are some factors that make it difficult for them to complete their education.

According to a data by UNICEF, 52 percent of the female population in the world, or 26 percent of the total population across globe, is of reproductive age at present. This means, menstruation is a monthly occurrence for all these women and girls. However, Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is limited for most of these women and girls in underdeveloped or developing areas as menstruation continues to be subject of taboo.

Similarly, 15 to 22 percent of girls from schools in Achham, Bajura and Parsa districts missed a day of school every month, as per another 2016 report by UNICEF. The reasons included pain, fear of leakage, and need to change materials.

In order to reduce absenteeism among girl students during menstruation, Nepal government has launched free sanitary pad distribution campaign at community schools targeting all girl students across the country. This campaign aims to minimize absenteeism and boost attendance amid menstruating students between Grade VI and Grade XII.

However, the free sanitary pad distribution campaign didn’t turn out to be the ultimate solution as the superstitions and stigma regarding periods remained amid school girls. Thereafter, the government sought help from different sectors to make the campaign more effective.

The National Health Training Center (NHTC), which formulates and manages health trainings under the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP), was given the responsibility to formulate a health package for teachers to equip them with better knowledge about Menstrual Hygiene Management.

“Even though the government introduced the campaign of distributing free sanitary pads at community schools, that alone wasn’t much helpful to keep girl students in schools during their period days – which was the main objective of free sanitary pad distribution,” said Dammar Kumari Khanal, a public health nurse of Skill and Development Section at NHTC.

She said that NHTC then formed a Menstrual Health and Hygiene package targeting health education among teachers and nurses at community schools to provide knowledge to school girls.

“Some schools have nurses who can teach students about their menstrual hygiene. When the schools don’t have nurses it’s upon health education teachers to educate their pupils about the topic,” she explained.

NHTC plans to create a pilot training for specific nurses and experts who will later train the teachers and nurses at schools across the nation.

The package will teach students about the importance of menstrual hygiene management and how to maintain hygiene during menstruation. It will further explain students about the ways to take care of themselves during menstruation, and the difference between using sanitary pads and clothes.

Though the package was created and presented to the government, it is not yet listed in the training curriculum, hence, no budget has been dispatched for the program yet – making the program’s implementation a far cry.

Similarly, another implementation challenge could be the process of disseminating message/information related to Menstrual Hygiene Management from teachers to students, according to Khanal.

“Girls prefer to learn about MHM from females, but remote schools have few female teachers or staff. Many teachers in rural schools have male health education teachers, so students can be shy and not listen carefully to the teachers. Likewise, some schools have really young female health education teachers, who themselves don’t feel comfortable talking about menstruation,” she said.

As MHM is a multi-sector agenda and can contribute to achieving Nepal’s sustainability development goals (SDGs), the government and other development agencies should allocate a portion of their budgets and other resources to make this agenda a priority.

Several studies show that poor sanitation in schools and lack of access to good quality sanitary products can be associated with absenteeism and dropout among girl students. To achieve gender equity, it is important that girls attend schools and reach their full education potential.

It is important for girls to be educated for their own health and well-being. When a girl finishes at least secondary school, she is less likely to experience child marriage, face domestic abuse, and suffer from long-term health complications due to lack of knowledge.