Indonesian students break taboos, misconception surrounding menstruation

The Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management (MHM) Programme in schools helps raise awareness on reproductive health and reduce bullying.

Artika, a student and Youth Health Cadre (KKR) at SMPN 2 Curug Tangerang shares information with her friends about Menstrual Hygiene Management
25 April 2022

Artika could barely contain her excitement as she waited in line to have her body temperature checked before entering her classroom. That morning in March 2021, students in Banten Province, Indonesia returned to school for in-person learning after having mostly online classes for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Besides meeting her friends and teachers, she had another thing to look forward to that day: The session on menstrual health and hygiene management. Menstruation had been a spectre for Artika and other female students in the school not only due to the physical discomfort, but also the lack of facilities at school and even bullying, especially during leaking incidence.

“Our male friends liked to make fun of us having menstruation, which really make us uncomfortable and felt humiliated,” Artika said.

These factors had caused a number of female students to call in sick when they had their period, as reported by the principal, Cucuk.

Menstrual health management remained a challenge for students in the district, and many places across Indonesia, due to the lack of comprehensive reproductive health education and low level of understanding of menstrual health management. It has been worsened by the lack of infrastructure for hygiene management at school and the taboos surrounding menstruation.

This situation has led UNICEF to launch the Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management (MHM) program for teenagers in Tangerang District in 2018. The intervention program aims to raise awareness among students and schools on the importance menstrual health and hygiene management, improve good practices, and increase their confidence in dealing with the challenges.

This MHM program has reached 40 schools in the district, five of which are Islamic schools, through activities that include health observation, surveys, as well as trainings and campaigns on menstrual health and hygiene management for teachers, counsellors, school health cadres, and students. 

Ibu Cucuk, Principal of SMPN 2 Curug Tangerang
Ibu Cucuk, Principal of SMPN 2 Curug Tangerang, inspects toilet sanitation facilities.

Youth as Agent of Change

One of the key strategies for the MHM program is the involvement of youth health cadres (Kader Kesehatan Remaja, KKR), a group of student volunteers that help initiate, organize and lead the activities and campaigns. The strategy was based on a UNICEF survey that most girls are more comfortable talking about puberty with other girls, including older sister or female friend. Meanwhile, boys are more open to discuss the issue with male family members, such as older male relative and older brother, or male friends.

Artika is among the 200 youth cadres assigned for the program, after she won Tangerang Sanitation Jamboree 2019’s writing competition on waste management. Her video on OKY application to monitor menstruation cycle was also among the winners of MHM competition held by UNICEF.

"My task is to provide information on menstrual hygiene, such as how to choose sanitary pads, and to talk with fellow students on the challenges of menstruation,” Artika said, adding that she also promoted the use of non-disposable pad to reduce waste.

The MHM programme involves male students to help eliminate taboos, myth and misconceptions surrounding menstruation, as well as to reduce bullying by male students.

“It is important to educate male student on this issue so that they know that menstruation is normal, and that it is wrong to make fun of it,” said Cucuk the school principal.

Daniel, 15, said his male friends at school initially found it shocking for him to discuss menstrual health and hygiene management. The Student Body President was assigned as mentor to hold seminar and campaign, including that on social media, about the program.

“At first they could not believe I have some knowledge about it; it was not easy to have a conversation about it with my (male) friends.  But I’m happy to play a role in this program, to change my friends’ mindset so that they will become more empathetic toward our female friends,” he said.

Artika and Daniel, students and Youth Health Cadres (KKR) at SMPN 2 Curug Tangerang received training on Menstrual Hygiene Management.
Artika and Daniel, students and Youth Health Cadres (KKR) at SMPN 2 Curug Tangerang received training on Menstrual Hygiene Management from one of the teachers who became their mentor.

Behaviour Change

Artika, Daniel and Cucuk said the programme has created behaviour change among students and good practices at school. According to Artika, the MHM programme has helped female students to overcome unnecessary embarrassment related to menstruation and have their needs addressed by the schools that provide sanitary pads and better toilets.

"The boys in my school no longer make fun of us, and they even offer help to get us sanitary pads,” Artika said.

Artika and Daniel said their fellow schoolmates are now more confident and open to discuss reproductive health and menstrual hygiene. Principal Cucuk said the number of girls who missed school during their menstrual period has decreased, and the school has provided sanitary pads and sets of uniform in the toilets.

To date, the MHM programme has reached more than 125 teachers, 200 youth health cadres and about 20,000 students in 40 schools in Tangerang. The successful implementation of the program has led local government to be committed to replicate and scale up the program in other schools in 2022.

How You Can Help

The above story is just one example of how UNICEF works with schools to raise awareness on reproductive health and reduce bullying among Junior High School students.

There are still many teenagers who need the support of programs like this. The success of this program will be a major milestone so that it can continue in other regions in Indonesia. For this we need your support.  

If you want to support our work to support teenagers continue to breaking the stigma in menstrual health and hygiene management among students in other areas, please consider donating to UNICEF. We are very pleased for your contribution.

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