Two out of 5 schools provide menstrual health education – UNICEF/WHO report

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WHO-UNICEF report

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report has revealed that worldwide the menstrual health and hygiene needs of girls are being overlooked.

It stated that only two out of five schools (or 39 per cent) provide menstrual health education and less than one in three schools (or 31 per cent) have bins for menstrual waste in girls’ toilets.

It said the figure increases in secondary schools with 84 per cent of secondary schools in Central and Southern Asia, for example, providing menstrual education, compared to just 34 per cent in primary schools.

The data is contained in a new report: Progress on drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene in schools 2000-2023: special focus on menstrual health – launched by UNICEF and WHO on Menstrual Hygiene Day.

Less than 1 in 3 schools (or 31 per cent) globally have bins for menstrual waste in girls’ toilets. This drops to 1 in 5 schools in least developed countries (or 17 per cent), and only 1 in 10 schools (or 11 per cent) in sub-Saharan Africa.

The report also stated that menstrual products are not always readily available, with many unable to afford them.

In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, only 1 in 8 schools (or 12 per cent) provide menstrual materials for free or for purchase.

Other highlights in the report are that *In many countries, adolescent schoolgirls do not have access to a clean toilet or other dedicated private space to change menstrual products in school.

*Unequal access to water and soap is an additional issue for millions of adolescent schoolgirls. Girls in urban areas, private schools and girls-only schools are more likely to have access to a private place with water and soap, highlighting inequalities even within the same country.

*Millions around the world are unaware or unprepared for menstruation before having their first period. A study in Ethiopia, for example, reveals that less than half the surveyed girls knew about their periods before their first time.

*Studies show that stigma related to menstruation remains widespread, with adolescents often feeling ashamed or unable to openly discuss the topic. This shame can affect their mental health and school attendance.

*No national datasets have been identified on how many teachers are trained to teach about menstrual hygiene, indicating a significant gap in educational support. Teachers play a crucial role in providing accurate information and creating a supportive environment, but without proper training they are ill-equipped to address students’ needs.

*Only 30 countries, over one-third of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, have relevant data tracking at least one of the globally recommended priority indicators. This lack of data hampers efforts to understand and address the issues comprehensively.

*While countries such as Zambia and the Philippines have shown marked improvements in making menstrual products and services available in schools, more needs to be done. Change is possible with targeted policies and investments.

The report underscores the urgent need for global action to improve menstrual health and hygiene in schools. By addressing these issues, every schoolgirl can manage her menstruation with dignity, safety, and confidence.

The report also includes progress on broader access to water, sanitation, and hygiene in schools.

“Today, 1 in 5 children (447 million) still lack basic drinking water services at their school, 1 in 5 lack basic sanitation services (427 million), and 1 in 3 children (646 million) don’t have access to basic hygiene services, according to latest data,” it stated.

The UNICEF/WHO analysis added: “Achieving the relevant Sustainable Development Goal by 2030 will require a two-fold increase in current rates of progress for basic drinking water, a two-fold increase for basic sanitation, and a four-fold increase for basic hygiene services.”