‘2 of 3 girls in Delhi govt schools stay home on periods’
Painful period cramps, deep-rooted stigma surrounding the menstrual cycle and absence of a support system have turned a natural bodily function into an ordeal for schoolgirls in the national capital.
At least 66% of girls enrolled in government schools across the city either skip classes or take a half day’s leave when they are on their period, found a survey that covered over 10,000 girls during the 2018-19 academic session.
The survey, conducted by Sachhi Saheli, a non-government organisation that works among women to fight social taboos, lists three major reasons for menstruating school girls skipping lessons — cramps, fear of staining their clothes, and the difficulties they face in changing sanitary napkins while at school.
“It’s observed that a large number of girls do not get the necessary support from their families during their monthly cycle. There is a myth that one should not take medicine for period pains and most mothers do not allow their daughters to take any painkiller. However, there is no harm in consulting a doctor and taking pain medication. That’s why they have no option but to skip classes,” Dr Surbhi Singh, the founder of Sachhi Saheli, said.
The survey found that 26% of schoolgirls skip classes because of a fear of staining their clothes. “Of the 10,000 girls who took the survey, 68% did not know about menstruation until they got their period. It clearly shows the stigma surrounding menstruation. It remains with them throughout their lives and menstruation continues to be a thing of shame for them. It also makes them feel uncomfortable about changing sanitary pads during school hours,” Dr Singh, a gynaecologist, said.
The NGO, in association with the Delhi government’s directorate of education (DoE), conducts menstrual hygiene and awareness workshops in state-run schools.
“Most of the government schools now have proper toilets and they are also providing free sanitary napkins to students. But we have observed that a lot counselling is required to change the mindset of students and their parents,” Singh said, adding that the situation was different in private schools.
“Girls in private schools get comparatively better guidance about periods from their families,” the doctor said.
The survey found that 77% of the girls surveyed had been told either by their mothers or some other family members that menstrual blood was “dirty”.
According to a 13-year-old studying in a government girls senior secondary school in Shakarpur in east Delhi, her mother told her when she experienced her first period not to talk about it. “When I got my period for the first time, I was told that it’s part of a girl’s life but we are not supposed to speak about it in front of others, especially boys and men. I feel shy to even tell my teacher when I’m on my period. I prefer to stay home for a day or two,” she said.
Indira Sagar, principal of the senior girls secondary school in south Delhi’s Srinivaspuri, said, “We conduct regular counselling for our students to dispel myths surrounding menstruation. We also speak to parents during our meetings. But we need to do more. We can provide basic facilities like hot water bottle or a restroom to our students.”
Arti Qanungo, who teachers at a government school in Shakarpur, said many of her students skip classes during their menstrual cycle and that the school had lately been trying to reduce the absenteeism.
“In my school, some girls used to skip classes for four to five days during their monthly cycle. Now, it has reduced to one or two days. We are organising a lot of activities and workshops to remove stigmas and taboos. Women should not feel bad about something that is an integral part of their lives,” she said.
Experts said educating students in their early years about menstruation can make a difference.
“It should be made mandatory for schools to impart menstrual education to both girls and boys from as early as class 5 or 6. It becomes difficult for them to remove deep-rooted notions and myths in the later years. It can make a lot of difference in the way they and their families perceive menstruation,” Dr Anuradha Kapur, a senior gynaecologist at Max Hospital in south Delhi’s Saket, said.