In Benin, according to a study, nearly one girl out of 7 does not go to school when she has her period. In order to limit absenteeism which undermines girls' schooling, Aide et Action is supporting 880 students in managing their menstrual hygiene, through a component of its AGIR project (Support to Governance and Relay Initiatives).
Many girls are not prepared for the onset of their first period, which can contribute to a drop in school attendance. Some drop out of school completely during this period. "I often miss class when I have my period because my house is far from the school. I can't go home, clean myself and then come back to school on time. In my school, there was only a block of dirty latrines with weeds around. So I wear my sanitary protection until the evening, sometimes my khaki (school uniform) is stained and my classmates notice that I have my period. To avoid everyone laughing at me, I stay at home until my period is over.A fifth-grader from Houinmin Primary School said.
Another 14-year-old girl from Gonfandji Primary School, in the fifth grade, adds: "The first time I had my period, I was in class and the teacher asked me to go to the blackboard. When I got up, my classmates started to laugh at me. That's when the teacher gave me her loincloth to tie over my khaki and asked me to go home. I was scared and cried a lot. It was my first period, and my mother had never told me about it...".
A survey on the management of menstrual hygiene in schools carried out by the Claudine Talon Foundation in the communes of Adjarra, Avrankou and Porto-Novo in Benin shows that about 15 % of girls miss classes during their menstrual cycles, which corresponds to 20 % of lost school time over a year. There are many reasons why girls drop out of school when they are menstruating: lack of information, stigmatisation, lack of access to adequate infrastructure (toilets, water, etc.), lack of means to buy sanitary protection, etc. The risk is that they will no longer be able to attend classes because of too many absences and will then stop school completely.
The management of the menstrual cycle therefore has an impact on the educational continuity of girls. The AGIR project has made this an essential part of its contribution to reducing the rate of girls' absenteeism in 80 primary schools in 8 communes in the Atlantic and Atacora departments. The targets are girls in CE2, CM1 and CM2 classes, mothers and resource persons (teachers, school vendors, etc.). 880 girls, 128 resource persons and 3,840 mothers of schoolgirls were sensitised and trained in the proper management of menstrual hygiene. The girls are explained what menstruation is and how they can manage their cycle.
This component of the project focuses on three aspects: the availability of suitable infrastructure, free reusable sanitary towels and support for resource persons. Schools that do not have single-sex toilets are provided with them. Schools also benefit from water points. The resource persons identified by the girls themselves are trained to support their goddaughters.
"Having experienced it, I understand the relevance of the implementation of this part of the project. The involvement of the women of the community, of the teachers that we are, has had a positive effect on the school life of the girls of the Golo-Djigbé school," says Inès Katcha, a teacher in the second grade.