Giving puberty lessons and free sanitary products may help improve girls’ attendance levels at schools, especially in developing countries, a new study has found.
The trial carried out by Oxford University in the UK involved 1,000 girls at eight schools in Uganda.
Researchers found that in the two schools where sanitary pads or puberty education were not provided, over 18 months levels of absenteeism among girls were 17% higher, on average, compared with schools where girls received pads, education, or a combination of both.
This amounts to the equivalent of nearly three and a half days of school a month, researchers said. The paper led by Professor Paul Montgomery, from the University of Oxford, focuses on how puberty can have negative effects on a girl’s education they are given help on how to manage periods and the bodily changes.
Researchers used a randomised trial to see whether absenteeism levels improved if girls were given reusable pads, puberty classes, or combinations of both and compared this approach with one where they had no intervention at all.
All the schools were in the Kamuli district, one of the poorest, rural areas of Uganda, which is reported to have high dropout rates, and some of the highest illiteracy and fertility rates in the world.
It is a district where, according to official government data, only 54% of girls at the local secondary schools are able to read, compared with 69% of boys.
The findings of this study which show the positive effects of such interventions echo an earlier pilot study in Ghana, also carried out by Oxford University researchers.
Previous studies have already found that menstruation is viewed widely in developing countries as ‘embarrassing”, ‘shameful’ and ‘dirty’; being unable to stay clean is one of the main reasons why girls stay away from their lessons.
Most of the women and girls in Uganda rely on absorbent cloth during their periods, but it is sometimes difficult for them to source enough clean material for this use, researchers said.
The girls also often find the cloth is not sufficiently absorbent and difficult to secure in underwear, or to change and clean, he said.
“Many girls don’t know about periods before they encounter their first one,” said Paul Montgomery, from the University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention.
“Just by giving girls lessons in puberty or a sanitary pad means they were more likely to stay at school during their periods, minimising the risk of disruption to their schooling,” said Montgomery.
“Simple interventions like these can have major long-term economic implications for women in low and middle income countries, which socially empowers them,” he said.
There have been ‘considerable improvements’ across the globe in driving up school enrolment levels, particularly at primary level, researchers said.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.