In Sri Lanka, a girl’s first menstruation is regarded as a key turning point in her life, and there are many rituals surrounding it, often leading to marriage. A critical aspect is also ensuring adequate education and awareness among girls of this important shift in their lives.
17 year-old Dilanka has just completed her Grade 10 exams and is waiting for entrance to high school to study at advance level and qualify for university entry. She is from Moneragala, an area covered by Plan’s Uva Programme Unit, and at her school, Plan implements a total sanitation programme incorporating key elements on menstrual hygiene.
“I’m sure girls of my age were not really aware of this whole physical and psychological change following girl’s first menstruation,” says Dilanka. “We all knew it was a kind of change, but little about the hygienic side of it. I studied in a mixed school and the situation was worse during menstruation. Many times, I remember my friends had to leave school early when they have their monthly period. Sometimes they wouldn’t turn up for days.”
“It was not a topic that we usually discussed with our mothers, and we seldom talked about it in school with girls of our age. We were glad when Plan International approached our school and discussed how they can help us to maintain a hygienic school environment.”
According to Dilanka, all the senior students were involved in the water and sanitation programme, and the project enabled them to play a part in building separate toilets for girls and boys.
“Then we discussed about menstrual hygiene,” says Dilanka. “It was one of the first times that we spoke about it in the open and with our teachers. Our home science teacher was leading the discussions. Then the teachers also spoke openly with our mothers too about the importance of menstrual hygiene.”
Plan International introduced the idea of a safe and hygienic place in the school to dispose of sanitary napkins at school, in a sealed dry pit made out of bricks and cement.
Says Dilanka: “Plan International helped us to construct the pit and also train us how to use it. It was very helpful.”
Mrs. Vijitha, the school’s home science teacher, adds: “Education and awareness of menstrual hygiene is a real need not only in our school, but everywhere. As a teacher who works with adolescent girls in school and as an elder in the village, I have seen that although girls use sanitary napkins during menstruation, they are not aware of the hygienic requirements, such as the need to change the napkins regularly. They didn’t know about the diseases that one can get through such negligence and poor care.”