By: Gloria Wleh
Fellow, AAMIN Health and Human Rights Journalism Fellowship
In its 2020 report, the United Nations Children Education Funds (UNICEF) said every month, 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 in 2021, a UNICEF report revealed that schools often lack menstrual hygiene materials supply and sanitation facilities girls need for managing their periods. According to the report, girls without adequate healthcare may feel discomfort, shame, stigma for being stained, and that may discourage them from attending school, thereby staying home to avoid being teased.
This leaves them, especially adolescent girls vulnerable to face social exclusion during menstruation.
In a quest to investigate the availability of menstrual hygiene services in public schools for adolescent girls, this article places a spotlight on four major public schools in Liberia, (William VS Tubman High School on 12th Street Sinkor, G.W. Gibson High School on the Capitol Bye-Pass, Paynesville Community High School in in Joebar, Paynesville and Matilda Newport Jr. High school on Newport Street, in Central Monrovia) as well as the Ministry of Education Schools Health Division.
In an interview with Anti-AIDS Media Network specialized health and human rights reporters, Susan Morris, a 16-year-old 6th grade student from the Paynesville Community High School (PCS), said, “I have been in this school for three years, and have not received any menstrual hygiene help from the school whenever I am menstruating on campus.”
“When I am receiving (menstruating) on campus, I can be worrying and afraid not for my clothes to get messed up before my friends laugh at me. So, whenever I am receiving when I am on campus, I can ask for permission to go home so that I can look after myself…. and the school can allow me to go home”, Susan explains.
Another adolescent girl, 15-year-old Kebbeh Waleh, a 6th grade student of PCS said, “I don’t wear pad when I am receiving because I cannot afford it, and I don’t know how to use it. I can just double my panties. I can be feeling afraid of getting messed up when I am on campus.”
Kebbeh said, “I want the school to have a special bathroom where pads and other menstrual items will be made available to help us anytime we are menstruating during school time.”
Mr. James Momo, Vice Principal for Students Affairs of the Paynesville Community High School admitted that the institution has no knowledge about the school providing menstrual management materials as such; there is no menstrual hygiene management plan in place for female students.
“We don’t have any menstrual management plan for our students, we have never thought on having menstrual management materials on this campus. You are the very first person bringing this information to our knowledge, Mr. Momo said.”
“We have the bathroom but because getting the items is so expensive, we don’t have pads to help meet the menstrual hygiene needs of our students. So we send our students experiencing menstrual issues home to take care of themselves, Mr. Momo indicated”.
He is however calling on government through the Ministry of Education and other partners to help the school in setting up a friendly menstrual hygiene management space for female students to make them comfortable on campus.
Mr. Momo said, “Our female students are always made to go home whenever they are observing their periods, even if they are writing test because we don’t want them to be made shamed or stigmatized by their male counterparts.”
18 year old Sametta Lemue and a 12th grade student at the Matilda Newport Jr. High School said they sometime receive menstrual hygiene assistance from the school’s administration, but not sufficient to serve them in a sustainable way.
“The supply of menstrual materials is an off and on thing on this campus, it is not regular and many times we are left with no alternate but to care for ourselves during our periods. We want the ministry of education, Ministry of gender and humanitarian organizations to help us. Sometimes we are sent home by our teachers and administration whenever we realize that we are menstruating, Sametta said.
Marintha Kromah, 16 and a 9th grade student also from the Newport Jr. High School, sees menstrual hygiene management as a serious human rights issue that needs to be prioritized by schools administration in the country.
“We female students should not be missing classes because we are menstruating; this brings embarrassment to us because it is something that happens to us every month. Let the school do something about this, we are begging,” Marintha said.
Madam Precious Bropleh, Guardian Counselor at the Newport Jr. High School told our reporters that they have more than 400 girls in the school, and a space that provides a gender sensitive bathroom, pads and water for female students.
However, Madam Bropleh said due to limited budgetary allocation the school is challenged to ensure regular supply of menstrual hygiene materials to female students.
She said “Because we don’t have much budgetary allocation to adequately handle the health needs of our students, we collect twenty Liberian Dollars (L$20) from each student for menstrual hygiene and other health issues, and with that our female students don’t have to leave classes for menstrual issues unless it is of severity.”
Lovetee Smaith, an 18 year old and a 12th grade student from the G.W. Gibson High school wants authorities of learning institutions in the country break the societal stigma associated with menstrual hygiene management, and design strategy to address the negative impact it has on the education of female students.
“It is now time that the school authority realizes that once young girls are part of the school’s population, there will be menstrual hygiene issue. So, we are appealing that plan be put in place to at least distribute menstrual pads on a monthly basis, or place them in a special area where they can access when they are observing their menstrual cycle, Lovetee said.
Mr. Joan Kpah, Vice Principal for Instruction at the G. W. Gibson School told our reporter that the school usually assists female students who have reached the age of menstruating with menstrual hygiene care pads only when they receive donations from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and kindhearted individuals.
The Director for the Division of Schools Health at the Ministry of Education, Johnson Hinneh said, described menstrual hygiene issues as a new phenomenon that recently caught the his office’s attention.
Mr. Johnson said they didn’t have evidence of the practices, knowledge and attitudes of the girls menstruating while on campus.
According to him, the Ministry through his division has conducted a Knowledge, Attitude and Practices (KAP) study among adolescent girls, which showed that some of them would escape classes or stay home when they are menstruating.
“The findings of the KAP survey have however caused the ministry to develop a “Technical Guard-line for Menstrual Hygiene Management in Schools, which came out by November 2021, Mr. Hinneh said.
According to him the process of reviewing the sanitation technical guideline to include menstrual hygiene provision is ongoing, with implementation starting soon.
He calls on schools in Liberia to work with the ministry for the provision of basic menstrual hygiene materials for female students across the country.
Mr. Johnson: “Menstrual hygiene is everyone’s business as such, everyone must get involved to provide a safe space and provisions for girls on campus, to encourage them stay in schools during their menstruation period.
This story was made possible through the professional intervention of Anti-AIDS Media Network (AAMIN) with funding from the American Jewish World Service (AJWS).