Learning about menstrual health and hygiene in Ethiopia
Posted by Samantha Andrades on Monday 28th May 2018
Menstrual health and hygiene can help to contribute to achieving a number of Sustainable Development Goals
Menstruation is called yewor abeba in the Ethiopian language Amharic, meaning “monthly flower”, and usually first starts for girls the age of 14-15 years old. More often than not, menstrual hygiene is a monthly challenge for girls in Ethiopia as they struggle to properly manage their periods. In particular this can have negative consequences for girls’ participation and performance in school and is linked to their absenteeism and dropout.
1 in 6 girls report having missed schooldays in the past year due to their menstruation, with absenteeism often leading to dropping out of school entirely. Girls who drop out of school are more likely to enter into marriage early. Dropout rates for girls are highest in Grade 8, around the same time as the onset of menstruation (age 14). While Ethiopia has made significant progress in increasing school attendance in recent years, especially for girls, statistics from the Ethiopian government indicate that only 53% of girls complete Grade 8 and even fewer (47%) continue to secondary education.
The likelihood of absenteeism is found to be linked to the ways in which girls manage their menstruation, with those lacking appropriate ways to manage their periods more likely to drop out of school. Research found that in Ethiopia girls’ main methods for managing their periods included using old rags (58.6), using nothing (14.8%), or wearing additional clothes or underwear (5.4%), with some reporting the use of sanitary pads.
Effective management of their periods is an even bigger challenge for girls in rural areas with only 1.6% of rural girls using pads compared to 37.1% of urban girls. While sanitary pads are the preferred method form of menstrual hygiene for girls (with insertable products such as tampons or menstrual cups less socially acceptable) in rural areas girls usually do not have money to buy pads, may be too embarrassed to buy them or they may simply not be available in rural and remote areas.
Negative cultural attitudes towards menstruation also have a negative impact on girls’ ability to manage their period. In Ethiopia misinformation and negative beliefs about menstruation are widespread, and restrictions are often imposed on many girls around the time of their menstruation such as not entering a church or mosque while menstruating, avoiding social groups and activities, and not being allowed to prepare food or drink. In addition, a study in Tigray in the northern part of Ethiopia found that 22% of males and 11% of females believes that menstruating girls should not attend school.
The social stigma around menstruation means that often girls are left to figure out puberty on their own only 55% of girls having any information about menstruation before it occurs. This can be frightening for girls and also prevents them from managing their periods properly as girls are often girls are embarrassed about their periods - 35% of girls indicating that they had been teased about their menstruation. In school, there is often a lack of adequate sanitation facilities in schools, especially in rural schools. Reports from the government indicates that only 20% of primary schools and 34% of secondary school have menstruation sanitation available.
Education is one of the most effective tools for empowering girls and efforts must be made to ensure that all girls have the opportunity to continue their education. Education increases their access to paid employment and economic empowerment, delays their entry into marriage and increases their agency and self-confidence. Wider benefits of increasing the girls’ education levels include increasing GDP, helping to reduce infant mortality increasing child immunisation and nutrition, lowers fertility and unwanted pregnancies.
To ensure girls can continue and take advantage of their education they must be enabled to effectively manage their periods. A holistic response is required. To give girls control over their period they first and foremost girls need access to appropriate knowledge and information and access to clean, safe, affordable and ecologically sustainable sanitary products. More medium to long-term solutions include ensuring girls have access to adequate facilities at school, raising awareness of the school community, parent teachers associations and general public around menstruation. Female teachers were found to be the main source of information about menstruation for girls so it must be ensured that there are female teachers in school and provide teacher training to support girls in school.
Ensuring adequate menstrual health and hygiene can help to contribute to achieving a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), and clean water and sanitation (SDG 6).
Louise Yorke PhD
Postdoctoral Researcher at REAL Centre,
Faculty of Education,
University of Cambridge
Read more about how Ethiopiaid is working hard with Dignity Period in order to give girls In Tigray the confidence to manage their period and continue with their studies free from fear and embarrassment.
References  Wall et al., 2016. Pain and discomfort, fear of having an accident at school, embarrassment and having nothing to manage their period are some of the main reasons for girls missing school. Population Council, 2010. Ministry of Education Annual Abstract 2015/16 Population Council, 2010 Population Council, 2010; Wall et al., 2016. Wall et al., 2016. Population Council, 2010. Population Council, 2010; Tegene & Sisay, 2014. Population Council, 2010.