There is a long way to go before we totally end school absenteeism during the menstruation period

More than one in four adolescent girls miss their school during the menstruation period, hampering their educational performance and lowering class attendance. A study "Factors that Trigger Girls' Absenteeism in School" conducted by World Vision International Nepal in collaboration with Nepal Health Research Council found that adolescent girls especially from the disadvantaged indigenous nationalities were nearly three times more likely and relatively advantaged girls were nearly two times more likely to be absent from school during their periods compared to the so-called upper caste groups.

Adolescent girls from Province 1 and Lumbini Province were 53 and 46 per cent respectively less likely to miss school than adolescent girls from Sudurpaschim Province. The possible reasons behind the high rate of school absenteeism in the far-west province are the high prevalence of socio-cultural taboos like the Chhaupadi and low literacy rate compared to Province 1 and Lumbini Province. Adolescent girls who dare to defy the menstruation taboos in the community and feel they can do something against it are 34 and 54 per cent respectively less likely to miss school compared to their counterparts who adhere to the traditional practices.

Those adolescent girls with higher menstruation stress were nearly 1.4 times more likely to miss school than their counterparts with low menstrual stress.

The adolescent girls with higher menstrual annoyance and higher shame and secrecy were 1.5 times and 1.7 times respectively more likely to miss classes during menstruation than their counterparts, as per the study. Regular absence from classes affects the quality of their educational performance and concentration on extracurricular activities.

The high rate of absenteeism in school can be minimised by launching various interventions from the parents to the local levels to raise awareness in the society. Providing training to girls regarding the use of sanitary pads, mobilisation of child clubs to raise awareness about menstruation taboos, and designating focal persons to provide psychological support to girls are some initiatives that can be launched by the parents, civil society and local levels to reduce girls' absenteeism. These approaches should be focussed on Sudurpashcim Province, where there is a high rate of girls' absenteeism due to the practice of Chhaupadi. The parliament has criminalised the practice of Chhaupadi, and the local levels have also destroyed Chhau sheds in a bid to encourage girls and women to stay within their homes during their periods. Simply imposing the law is not going to bring about any desired change. We all need to mobilise the household heads, especially men, religious leaders and leading members of the civil society to bring an end to the Chhaupadi practice that forces the adolescent girls out of school during the periods, or four days a month. There is a long way to go before we completely end absenteeism during the menstruation period. The local levels can also come up with some incentive packages, such as providing free sanitary pads to the menstruating girls and socially honouring the parents who encourage their daughters to go to school during the periods.

Relief package

The relief package promised by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on Wednesday to support industries and enterprises hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic should cheer the business community. It is for certain that the government cannot dole out big financial incentives to the industrialists and entrepreneurs as in other countries, but even some cuts in the interest rates on their loans or extending the repayment period would provide relief to them. The extended lockdowns and prohibitory orders have forced all industries to shut down, and their revival is necessary to kick start the economy.

It's the fear of the coronavirus that is preventing industries from operating. Hence, the only way to provide human safety is to vaccinate the workers en masse. Many developed countries are already seeing a revival of their economies, even the tourism industry, following mass vaccinations of their populations.

Those in the hospitality industry in Nepal are also optimistic that the tourism industry can bounce back if only the government were to provide vaccines to the workers in the industry. With the private sector keen on getting back on its feet as soon as possible, the government should extend a helping hand.

A version of this article appears in the print on July 23 2021, of The Himalayan Times.