Menstruation is still a taboo in Laos and is not easy to talk about, either at home or in schools. In rural villages in Lao PDR, a culture of shame surrounds the menstrual cycle.
In November 2013, SNV Laos and Swedish master student Liyen Chin researched Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) in rural communities in three districts (Atsaphone, Phine and Xonnabouri) in Savannaketh. The study aims to identify and understand in what ways the factors that affect the practice of MHM among women and adolescent girls. Liyen interviewed 375 women from nine different villages and organised 17 group interviews with a total of 179 women, including some pupils in 9 primary schools.
She found that 54% of the women used disposable pads during their menstruation, but almost 22% still used old clothes and 16% wore double sinhs (traditional Lao skirts). Almost 43% of the women who use disposable pads use them during the whole menstrual cycle, while 34% only use it when they need to leave the house. Another finding was that women and girls severely lack knowledge regarding menstruation and menstrual hygiene management. About 50% of the girls interviewed in 12 schools said that MHM was not part of their school curricula while 33% said that some part of MHM was included.
Most pupils do not have adequate access to toilets in schools. They are missing or out of order and none of the existing ones are girl-friendly. But even girls from primary schools that had access to flush toilets, did not use them during their period. One girl said: “Even though we have toilets, we don’t use them during menstruation. We feel the toilets are not clean and there is no privacy.” Another one said: “We learned about menstruation issues from our friends, not from our teachers and mothers. There is no subject in school and we are shy to tell when we had our first period”.
Schools play a crucial role in enabling discussions where pupils feel free to talk about menstruation. Pupils, teachers and school administrators need access to information and training, to empower women and girls through improved menstrual hygiene management and to encourage girls to complete their education.