#MenstruationMatters in Lao PDR


News

Although many people find menstruation an uncomfortable or off-limits topic to discuss, SNV believes that menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is an important cross-sector issue to be aware of.

Why do we think menstrual hygiene is important? Some of the SNV Lao PDR staff, across all the sectors, provided their own answers to that question. See their responses in our photostory.

In March SNV’s Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) sector leader in Lao PDR, Aftab Opel, presented at the Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Alliance workshop on gender and nutrition. The presentation focused on Menstrual Hygiene Research in Lao PDR, citing the results of research done by SNV in Savannakhet Province. 

Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is an important cross-sector issue due to its effects on young women’s school attendance and performance, which can have lasting impacts on various areas of life. Many girls worldwide miss nearly a week of school each month due to menstruation, and education and resources available on the subject and often limited and inconsistent. In Lao PDR, over 22% of women are 10-19 years of age, in the key target group to improve their knowledge, practices, and attitudes about menstrual hygiene management for the future. 

SNV conducted important research on MHM in Lao PDR in 2013, when SNV intern and Swedish master student Liyen Chin researched Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) in rural communities in three districts (Atsaphone, Phine and Xonnabouri) in Savannakhet. The study used interviews with female students at schools in order to identify and understand what factors affect the practice of MHM among women and adolescent girls.

Most of the schools where students were surveyed did have toilets available, but the vast majority had no soap and water and no separate toilet for girls. A large percentage of the girls surveyed reported feeling uncomfortable and a lack of privacy at school during menstruation, and many believed that it affected their school performance, due to a lack of concentration. 

Only about half of the young women reported receiving any instruction on MHM at school, and usually several years after menstruation had actually begun for them. Most of the girls said that they felt scared when their menstruation began, and nearly half had no prior knowledge of the process when it started. 

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.”

SNV believes that this research is crucial to begin to understand the situation and break the silence and taboo surrounding menstruation in Lao PDR. The potential benefits of MHM programmes are many, considering the number of menstrual age school girls in the nation, and the tangible economic benefits of keeping girls in school and focused.