Teacher participation a key factor in successful Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management program
Government-appointed teachers become mentors for students on issue related to menstrual hygiene management
When it comes to discussing menstruation issues, studies show that teenage students mostly talk about it with their peers, and they only come to authorities like women teachers when it is truly necessary. This is to show how menstruation remains a taboo and how young girls still feel uncomfortable and embarrassed about the situation.
In SMPN 3 Cisauk junior high school in Tangerang District, Banten Province, however, one of the go-to adults to discuss menstruation is a male teacher named Agung Winanda. He has participated in the teacher training on Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management (MHM) in Tangerang District held by UNICEF, with the support from KAO Corporation through the Japan National Committee for UNICEF
“I was delighted when the Principal appointed me to be the designated teacher for MHM activities. I was concerned with how students had little understanding on reproductive and menstrual health and hygiene,” Agung said.
“The girls had difficulties in managing their menstrual health and hygiene due to the lack of infrastructure and facilities at school. To make matters worse, boys teased the girls about it.”
The MHM training, he said, gave him insights and knowledge that enable him to reach out to the students and raise their awareness on the issues.
“It has definitely not been easy to talk about it with teenagers, especially boys. But slowly, they came to realize that it is an important issue,” Agung said, adding that the program has encouraged school to improve the MHM facilities.
The MHM program for students in Tangerang was launched in 2018, providing training for mentors, teachers and youth health cadres (KKR) who would campaign for this issue. The mentors are teachers appointed by Tangerang District Government to oversee 40 schools where the MHM program takes place. These mentors received a number of trainings, from Human Centered Design Training to Training of Trainers, before they passed on the knowledge to fellow teachers and also the youth health cadres.
Mina Rabiatul Asiah, one of the all-women mentors, said she gained a lot of network from the program. This is despite the switch to online activities instead of offline ones due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I met a lot of great people, and received a lot of knowledge from this program on how to maintain menstrual health,” she said.
Strategic Communication Tool
One of the most notable intervention in the MHM program was the launch of the story book titled The Secret of Two Worlds (2019), a brilliant strategy to raise teenagers’ awareness on the MHM issue. This book was a result of close collaboration between students, mentors, and local religious leaders.
Mina said the idea for comic book came up during the training on communication tools, where students from formal schools (both regular and Islamic schools) to non-formal institutions were gathered to give insight on the most suitable tool.
"They designed a suitable communication tool to be used to convey MHM messages to teenagers. We as mentors were there to ensure the representation and to assist and support the process. All of those ideas came from the teenagers involved,” said Mina.
As many as 4,500 copies of the comic book have been distributed to schools in Tangerang. Teachers have also shared the PDF version of the book to reach more students.
“The Secret of Two Worlds is very well-made, very interesting, very communicative. The students, both girls and boys, responded to it well, saying that the book helped them with the MHM issue, how it gave them insight,” Mina added.
Youth health cadre, Artika Sari Dewi, said the book was a brilliant tool to raise awareness on MHM issue to fellow students.
“This kind of prop really helps when talking about the issue. My friends and I really love the book. The story is fun, full of action, with a lot of attractive visuals, so students will not get easily bored when we read it to them, or when they read it,” she said.
Apart from teachers and mentors, school principals play a key role in creating a successful campaign. Their leadership, from appointing designated teachers to ensuring that the program runs smoothly, has opened up a new horizon about menstrual and reproductive health management for students of all genders.
“I’m ecstatic that girls and also boys have become more open-minded about the issue. They seem enthusiastic about learning about reproductive health,” said principal, Cucuk Sri Rahayu, the principal of SMPN Curug 2 Tangerang.
“We encouraged students to look for other sources to learn. We also asked parents to assist their children and discuss this issue openly, so that it will no longer become a taboo, and that children will not feel afraid or embarrassed about the changes in their bodies.”
The success of the MHM program in Tangerang left a void in Mina’s heart as the program has come to an end after three years.
“I’m sad that I can no longer meet the great people who inspired me during my mentorship. I hope this program will continue to help teenagers in Indonesia raise awareness on MHM,” she said.