The state of Maharashtra is making menstrual health education mandatory in public schools in the hopes that a stronger understanding of menstruation will help girls better manage their periods and dispel superstitions.
Faced with stigma, embarrassment, and often a total lack of information, almost 70% of girls in Maharashtra — India’s second largest state — skip school when they have their period. Those frequent absences can add up to 50 days a year.
The state government introduced pilot programs in a few districts before deciding to expand period education programs statewide last week. In addition to teaching children about menstrual health, the government will work to educate their parents and overcome stigma.
But it’s not just about missing school — it’s also about enabling girls to fully participate in society and live their lives while they are menstruating. Girls are often asked to avoid religious spaces and kept from playing outside when have their periods, says a Menstrual Hygiene Day report by consulting firm FSG.
A comprehensive understanding of women’s bodies and menstrual health is lacking in Maharashtra. Only 13% of menstruating girls and women in Maharashtra knew about periods before they experience them, according to a UNICEF report. Overall about 70% of girls and women lack information about their periods in India.
Nationwide, 1 in 5 girls drop out of school completely after reaching puberty, and menstrual health management contributes to that drop out rate. Nearly a quarter of girls in India drop out of school because they lack access to toilets and facilities to manage their periods.
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“This is a revolutionary move,” said a spokesman for the Maharashtra Principal’s Association.
"It is a welcome move as, in general, there is a dearth of awareness in our society regarding menstruation,” added education activist Heramb Kulkarni. “The government should kick off this initiative by offering separate and clean toilets to girls in schools."