Feminists, health experts and educators alike have warmly greeted the Department for Education’s announcement that menstrual health will be taught in all schools starting from 2020. This includes primary schools. Why has it taken so long for this to become compulsory?
Starting period education young encourages the normalisation of menstruation so that it is no longer seen as something to fear. Introducing young girls to menstruation education means that when they do start their periods, it becomes less daunting and no longer some mysterious monthly visitor they heard their mum and older sister whispering about. Recent statistics published by Plan International UK have revealed that nearly half of menstruating pupils have missed school because they felt embarrassed about their periods. Evidently, not being comfortable about their menstruation is having direct impacts on students’ education. Menstrual education means that periods become something concrete and tangible, not just some hush-hush topic that young girls hear scary rumours about but are too afraid to address with their parents.
Furthermore, if all schoolchildren have the same level of awareness about periods, it means that young girls are less likely to feel ostracised when they do start. Knowing that their classmates understand that it is a natural part of human biology can relieve children of some of the taunting they may otherwise face from classmates who are unaware of what periods are and thus just recognise them as something differentiating one pupil from the next.
Unfortunately, parents cannot necessarily be relied on to give their children reliable information about what happens during puberty. While children typically experience the dreaded “talk” from their parents twice – once when they reach puberty age and once more when their parents suspect they are becoming sexually active – the content of these talks is not necessarily the same for everyone. Providing menstrual education in primary schools ensures that all children are able to acquire the same knowledge – from how to use sanitary towels and tampons to why they might start producing discharge or growing pubic hair. Ensuring all children have the same period education makes it less likely that they will emerge from the school toilets in tears after finding blood on their knickers for the first time and not knowing what is happening to their body.
Some critics argue that primary school children are too young to learn about puberty, but I disagree. That children start their periods while still in primary school is a fact, and they clearly need to be prepared for this. Furthermore, many primary school children are arguably mature enough to learn about periods – we
cannot just protect them from menstruation forever. Because of the nature of many primary schools in which classes have just one teacher for most lessons, children are likely to have an attached and even parental relationship with their teacher. Such a supportive and trusting relationship creates the ideal environment to educate children about topics potentially seen by some as big and scary – period education included.
In combination with increased provision of free sanitary products in schools and the demystifying of the female pubescent body, education can contribute towards ensuring more girls have a positive and informed attitude towards puberty. Ultimately it needs to be accepted that periods are part of everyday life for many primary school-aged children. The younger we teach them about what changes happen to their body during puberty, the sooner we can normalise periods, before it all becomes a big bloody mess.
Last modified: 13th March 2019