Menstruation is OK: from taboo to acceptance

Countering shame around menstruation among girls—and boys

Wickie Mercado
Four girls, wearing t-shirts with the hashtag #MeronAko, holding sanitary napkins
UNICEF Philippines/2019/George Cabig

15 November 2019

Katherine Caballa, 11, is a Grade VI student at Mapanas Central Elementary School. She was 9 years old when she had her menarche or first menstruation.

“We were playing at my friend’s house when I felt something and saw that I had blood,” says Katherine. “I immediately went home and told my mom. I asked her what was happening to me.”

Being only 9 at that time, Katherine had no idea what was happening to her. Her mother told her to wash up and clean herself then introduced her to sanitary napkins.

“I did not tell anyone. I was too shy,” she says, adding that being the first to menstruate among her friends was embarrassing.

In the Philippines, menstruation is a social taboo that makes girls like Katherine ashamed. To counter shame around menstruation, UNICEF launched the #MeronAko campaign and has seen a major change in behavior towards menstruation among students at Mapanas Central. The school facilities have also been improved with the provision of separate toilets for girls and boys, complete with soap and running water.

Through the campaign, Katherine and her friends can openly talk about menstruation especially with their male friends. “I was scared at first because I did not know what it was. But now we know that this is normal for girls.”

Teachers and students happily pose in front of improved bathrooms for students at their school
UNICEF Philippines/2019/George Cabig
Teachers and students alike at Burgos Elementary School in Mapanas now enjoy clean, gender-segregated bathrooms, which are always complete with soap and running water.

#MeronAko campaign

It all started when #MeronAko was introduced at the elementary school through a series of training-workshops for teachers and students. A very important step was for the teachers to include lessons on introducing students to menstruation.

“Our lessons on the human reproductive system in the years prior to #MeronAko was introduced were purely academic and bookish,” says Mr. Romer B. Longcop, a Grade 5 Science teacher for 16 years in Mapanas Central. “Thus, the students could not entirely connect with the lessons. It was awkward even mentioning the names of the human anatomy including the private parts. The students giggled and teased each other. But now, the students are not shy about mentioning body parts, and the male and female reproductive systems.” For the teachers, it has made teaching about the human anatomy easier, more fun, and more exciting.

For this campaign, UNICEF developed several colorful, age-appropriate materials that were used in introducing the reproductive system to both males and females. Girls were also taught proper hygiene practices, including how to dispose their sanitary napkins properly.

A schoolboy reads a booklet on menstrual health management while in class
UNICEF Philippines/2019/George Cabig
Boys are also taught about what happens to their female peers’ bodies when they have their periods. Through colorful and child-friendly materials, they learn that menstruation is a normal process.

Going beyond the usual audience

Dominic Pajaroja, 11, of Burgos Elementary School, also learned about menstruation through his classes and the #Meron Ako Campaign. He knows that this is a normal part of growing up. He and his friends support their female classmates having their periods by first of all not teasing them, and respecting when they have their periods. They even advise their female friends having their first periods not to be scared, and assure them that this is a normal process.

His teacher, Mr. Joniel Irinco, encourages his students—both male and female—to share their stories about menstruation and not be afraid to support each other. Mr. Irinco also pointed out that the school is always equipped and ready with sanitary pads and pasadors, which are neatly stacked in their first aid kits, in case any of the girls suddenly have their period.

Mr. Longco is now a senior teacher of San Jose Elementary School, where he intends to promote the #MeronAko Campaign. He has seen how it has changed both students’ and parents’ outlook toward a normal process of life that used to be considered taboo and shameful.

"We are very grateful for the #Meron Ako Campaign. Because of this, our youth has changed their mindset, and they have also learned to provide more respect and support for females."

UNICEF Philippines supports the #MeronAko Campaign, as part of its work with the Department of Education (DepEd) to strengthen the implementation of the national WASH in Schools policy and standards.

From 11-15 November 2019, DepEd, with support from UNICEF, GIZ and Save the Children, is conducting a WASH in Schools International Learning Exchange (WinS ILE) in Manila. The WinS ILE facilitates learning among countries in Asia and the Pacific towards reaching Sustainable Development Goal 4; generate momentum and political commitments in accelerating WinS progress in the region; and strengthen ties among Ministries of Education in the region to support the regional network of WinS practitioners.

Around 200 people from different countries, DepEd national and regional offices, CSOs, academe and sector development partners are attending the WinS ILE.