Supporting girls' menstruation to improve their attendance at school

Photo credits: Action Education

500 million girls and women worldwide lack the resources to manage their periods. One in ten girls do not attend school during their periods in the sub-Saharan African region, according to a study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. For these girls and women, this represents a loss of 20 % of annual school time. As a result, they are sometimes forced to drop out of school completely each month as soon as their periods start, as managing this period becomes a source of constraints and problems for them, due to a lack of information, adequate infrastructure and easily accessible hygiene products.


Action Education commits to menstrual hygiene and sanitation in Benin's schools

In Benin, many schools face a major problem: the lack of latrines and water points. This precarious situation in terms of sanitary infrastructure has a direct impact on many girls when they menstruate, and some even drop out of school. On World Menstrual Hygiene Day, Action Education is highlighting its project to improve hygiene and sanitation in schools in response to this issue. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), unsafe water and lack of basic hygiene and sanitation cause the deaths of more than 525,000 children under the age of five each year and cause health problems and delayed development for thousands more. But the consequences are also felt at school level, where girls, more affected by hygiene issues related to their menstruation, often miss classes. Unfortunately, in Benin, access to drinking water and sanitation facilities are far from guaranteed for most schools in rural areas.


Improving hygiene in schools through appropriate facilities

To change the situation, the project to improve hygiene and sanitation in Benin's schools, implemented by Action Education in partnership with the Claudine Talon Foundation, was developed in 70 school groups in five communes (Adjarra, Avrankou, Aguégués, Porto-Novo and Sô-Ava). Well received by schoolchildren, parents, teachers and the decentralised education services, it has enabled the construction of 87 latrine blocks and the installation of 62 hand-washing stations. The project has also promoted access to drinking water through the direct connection of 18 schools and more than 2,300 schoolchildren have been made aware of hygiene and sanitation issues. However, it is the girls who have been more specifically supported.


Promote dialogue around the rules with "talks".

The association identifies girls who have already started menstruating and then introduces the project to girls in the second and third grades. A key aspect of the project is the identification of trusted persons to whom the girls can turn for questions related to sexual and reproductive health and menstruation. These people are then trained and can lead discussions, known as 'chats', to talk to the girls and share advice on menstrual management, personal hygiene and other important topics. 


15.2% of girls missed school because of their period

In Africa, sex education is often taboo and this is even more so in rural areas. This is why supporting girls in managing their menstrual hygiene has been an important part of the project. "I have been menstruating for two years. I didn't like to talk about it because I was ashamed", explains Carène GBOZO, a pupil in the CM2 class at the Zoungoudo Public Primary School in Ouidah. "I was identified with my friends by the resource person with the help of the Action Education facilitator to benefit from information and advice on menstrual management. I am now more comfortable in class. Because we received a lot of advice from the facilitator and the teacher and if one of us had a period at school, we are no longer afraid or ashamed because the teacher now helps us to manage it. I thank the NGO Action Education for this good initiative for us." 

A survey on the management of this problem in schools in the communes of Adjarra, Avrankou and Porto-Novo revealed that about 15.2% of girls missed class because of their periods. The main reasons for this absenteeism were pain in the lower abdomen (69%) and mockery by classmates (29%). Often surprised in class by bleeding, the girls are embarrassed with dirty clothes, while the schools offer no framework for them to clean themselves in privacy. The project has therefore integrated sexuality into the construction plans for the latrine blocks, providing one space for girls and another for boys. This privacy is a guarantee for equality and non-discrimination in schools. Action Education thus emphasises the importance of menstrual hygiene, which has already had positive results in Benin, as presented at the last edition of Let's Talk Education on 22 November 2022.


Mobilise the girls' entourage to advise and reassure them

To address the issue of female hygiene, resource persons have been identified and trained to refer girls to the nearest health centre. In this way, they can be examined by a qualified health worker and the information can be passed on to the parents so that they can make the necessary arrangements. These resource persons also provide advice on how to manage the period, including precautions and strict adherence to hygiene measures. Mothers are also trained to manage their daughters' menstrual hygiene. The project has enabled the distribution of 640 sanitary napkin kits to 325 girls identified in 50 schools in the communes of Adjarra and Kogbomè. From now on, the girls are informed and advised on menstruation and no longer risk dropping out of school.

AEA scaled 1


"Our girls in the schools lack information and are not well prepared for the management of their menstrual periods", testifies Moudjahidathou ABOU, mother of a pupil in Golo-Djibgé, "Some girls are absent or even drop out of classes because of menstruation. That is why I thank Action Education and the Swiss Cooperation for the attention given to the older girls in CE2, CM1 and CM2 classes who have already had their first menstrual period. They are the ones who often drop out of classes to learn how to manage their periods. It's true that it's a bit tricky to talk about this subject with children, especially our daughters at home. But with the information I received, I am committed to accompanying my daughters and being a sister to whom they confide. Thank you to the AGIR Benin project!



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