A Blind Spot in Girls’ Education: Menarche and its Webs of Exclusion in Ghana

Type Journal Article - Journal of International Development
Title A Blind Spot in Girls’ Education: Menarche and its Webs of Exclusion in Ghana
Volume 26
Issue 5
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2014
Page numbers 643-657
URL http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/19420/1/Dolan_19420.pdf
Educating girls has widespread benefits, from improved health and reduced population
growth to increased productivity and economic growth. Over the last decade, this
awareness has moved girls‘ education to the forefront of national policy and international
agreements and today achieving gender parity in educational enrolment is, against what
once seemed unfathomable odds, within reach for many developing countries (UNESCO,
2010). However, despite notable progress in girls‘ educational achievement (Lloyd and
Young, 2009), differences in educational opportunities for boys and girls persist (Herz and
Sperling, 2004). One of the most obvious yet frequently overlooked of these differences is
the process of maturation itself, including menstruation.
Research suggests that the onset of puberty disproportionately affects girls‘
educational prospects, particularly in developing countries where concerns about girls‘
safety and modesty, pressures for early marriage, and economic imperatives are often
barriers to their schooling.1 Recently, however, media (BBC, January 2010; Kristoff, 2010)
and NGO accounts (FAWE, 2004; Ten, 2007) have claimed that it is not simply puberty
but inadequate sanitary care that poses an obstacle to the education of post-pubescent girls,
a claim that has galvanized a range of actors—from celebrity activists and multinational
corporations to social enterprises and government ministries —to raise menstrual
management as a development concern, with several initiatives emerging to increase access
to sanitary pads, fund the provision of private changing areas and sanitary facilities, andimprove access to water at school. Yet despite the growing number of initiatives focused
on the issue, the relationship between sanitary care and girls‘ education remains largely
unsubstantiated. To date, there has been little academic attention awarded to the issue and
no empirical evidence demonstrating that such measures actually improve educational
This paper, based on a pilot study in Ghana, offers such evidence. The study
assessed the impact of sanitary pads and puberty education on the school attendance of
post-pubertal girls, as well as the implications of menarche for their well-being. The
findings suggest that provisions for menstrual sanitary care (e.g., privacy for changing,
access to water, and hygienic materials to manage menstruation) and exposure to puberty
education has a positive effect on girls‘ school attendance and subjective well-being, and
may provide a fruitful tool in strategies that aim to improve girls‘ educational outcomes.
The paper is structured as follows. Section 1 provides an overview of the
intersection between gender, education, and puberty, and sketches out how menstruation
shapes the educational experience of girls. Section 2 describes the study‘s methodology,
which aimed to gain a qualitative understanding of the socio-cultural and material
implications of menstruation and statistical evidence of the relationship between menstrual
management and school attendance through a non-randomised control trial (hereafter the
‗intervention‘). Section 3 explores how menarche dovetails with educational attainment in
material ways—through the provision of hygiene facilities, the withholding of family
economic support, scarcity of private space, pressure for early marriage, and so on. Section
4 presents the results of the intervention, showing the relationship between the provision
of sanitary pads and school attendance.

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