By: Romelia P. George/LHRJN Fellow
The United Nations Children Education Funds (UNICEF) 2020 report revealed that 1.8 billion women and adolescent girls across the world menstruate, and millions of these people are unable to manage their menstrual cycle in a dignified and healthy way.
Also, UNICEF 2021 report indicates that schools often lack menstrual hygiene materials supply and sanitation facilities that girls need to manage their periods.
Most often, female students without sufficient healthcare usually feel worried, ashamed and stigmatized for being stained. This discourages them from attending classes.
In Liberia, menstruation is a monthly reality for women and girls in Liberia. About 1.2 million women and girls are on their periods every 28 days in the country, according to the analysis of Liberia Demographics Profile 2021 data.
Also, women and girls continue to face serious challenges when it comes to managing their menstrual cycles. Limited awareness, harmful gender norms, myths, and false information about periods are prevalent, usually leading to stigma.
Addressing menstrual hygiene management is a national conversation that requires holistic approach, with learning institutions needed to play a significant role.
As part of efforts to bring to highlight some of the issues, a media watchdog, Liberia Health and Rights Journalists Network (LHRJN) launched an investigation to determine an enabling environments schools are creating to address menstrual hygiene management challenges affecting adolescent girls in the country.
The investigation took our team of reporters to a number of selected private learning institutions in Liberia.
Mr. Jacob Dorbor, Dean of Student Affairs of the B.W. Harris Episcopal High School on Broad Street said the school has a decent friendly center where female students gather to receive materials during their menstrual period.
Mr. Jacob Dorbor, B.W. Harris High School Dean of Student Affairs
Mr. Dorbor said, the school Nurse Aid Department responsible to educate female students on a regular basis on the usage of sanitary pads.
According to Mr. Dorbor, these sanitary materials are usually supplied by non-governmental and civil society organizations.
“We want to thank some civil society organizations in Liberia that regularly visit our school and encourage our female students on the importance of using sanitary materials [pads].
He wants female students of the institution to make maximum use of menstrual hygiene materials being provided by the school to avoid embarrassment during menstruation.
Sarafina Mason, a female student at the B.W. Harris Episcopal High School said whenever she observes her menstrual cycle she stays home to avoid being embarrassed because she may not get the care she needs.
Contrary to Mr. Dorbor’s assertion that the school usually educates students about menstruation, Sarafina said information dissemination on menstrual hygiene management in the school is limited.
Students Cathrina Dopola and Bernice George for their part said when they observe their menstrual period, they usually run to the nurse’s office for pads.
“As soon we observe that we are messed up, the school permits us to go home. We appreciate the school for that,” Cathrina said.
“Bernice George said, “We feel better going home to observe our menstruation because the environment is not friendly enough.”
Mr. Josiah Tokpah, Vice Principal for Instructions of the Assembly of God Mission High School on Buchanan Street disclosed that the school has a female student responsible to educate her colleagues about the importance of menstrual hygiene management.
“Despite the scarcity of menstrual pads in the school, the AGM School always manages to provide pads to female students,” Mr. Tokpah said.
Mr. Tokpah said, “apart from the female who usually helps to educate the students, the school’s Health Science Instructor conducts special classes for the students on various health issues including menstrual hygiene.”
Reverlyn P. Beare, a student of AGM High School told our reporter that during registration, fees for sanitary pads are stipulated in the tuition.
Student Beare, a 12th-grade student said besides the provision of the pads, they receive pills from the school to present infection (s).
“Our female teachers always educate us not to use pads for too long,” Student Beare said.
Mr. Jerry Williams, Chairperson of the AGM High School Parents Teachers Association (PTA) said the association has endorsed that a minimum amount be placed in the school’s tuition to provide menstrual pads for female students whenever they are experiencing a menstrual circle.
Mr. Williams wants parents to work with their children during their body development stage to educate them on various basic reproductive health issues.
Mr. Alphonso Goll, Principal of the Richard M. Nixon High School, said the institution continues to help female students during their monthly menstrual hygiene period.
Mr. Alphonso Goll, Principal of Richard M. Nixon High School
“The institution currently has a clinic where students go to seek medical attention and at the same time, female students go through menstrual circle education regularly. The school’s bathrooms are always kept clean for students especially when they are going through their menstrual circle,” Mr. Goll disclosed.
Madam Everlina Deguglielmo, Principal of the St. Teresa Convent said her institution is helping to ensure that students are knowledgeable about the usage and importance of sanitary pads.
Madam Everlina Deguglielmo, Principal of St. Teresa Convent
Madam Deguglielmo said, “The school is always educating students, especially females to take good care of themselves during the menstrual period. The institution`s General Science instructor is always helping the students with menstrual hygiene topics. This is greatly helping the students.”
Also speaking, Mrs. Elizabeth Hope, Assistant Director of School Health Care at the Ministry of Education named several efforts by the ministry to buttress the efforts of schools across the country to improve the menstrual hygiene services to adolescent girls in various schools.
Mrs. Hope said the ministry is working to ensure that every school provides a safe bathroom for female students.
“The Ministry has been conducting training for teachers and students to have them informed about menstrual hygiene and students’ safety,” Madam Hope said.
She wants a reduction in the price of menstrual pads to enable students to purchase them.
This fellowship story was supervised by the Liberia Health and Rights Journalists Network (LHRJN), with funding from the American Jewish World Service (AJWS).