Since independence, successive governments in Ghana have pursued educational policies aimed at universal basic education for all citizens. These policies have moderately increased enrolment and educational participation. The quality of information pupils gain equip them with knowledge and tools with which they can plan their future even while they protect themselves from debilitating and fatal conditions such as early marriages and unwanted infection including HIV/AIDS.
Adolescence is a relatively short and transitional stage, which a child develops into and takes on roles of an adult. It is necessary to continually study and discuss current group of young people in mundane life experience and their emerging problem relating to puberty and maturation. For many reasons, female adolescents are more vulnerable than any other and are biologically more susceptible to STls such as Chlamydia and gonorrhea that could facilitate the transmission of HIV (M. Asachzzon Khan 2002)
The needs of adolescents are unique and pressing and should at all cost be met. However, they cannot be met in isolation but rather need to be considered and addressed in the center of family care, the resources of school and the community, in addition health providers should be sensitized to be generally sympathetic to the youth and especially the girl child.
Apart from the Government, international organizations and non governmental organization that have made their priority to ensure access to and improve the quality of education for girls and women and to remove every obstacle that hampers their active participation, these efforts have moderately increased enrolment particularly at the basic level. However the issues of equity, retention and participation have remained unresolved. The alarming aspect of the disparity is that the gender gap widens from primary through secondary to tertiary education. The situation is made even worsen since there is insufficient information on growing child from various sources. ( homes, schools, social clubs and the media.)
Researches have revealed that the causes are multifactor. In addition to poverty, which affects girls more than boys, there are others like social, cultural and economic reasons preventing girls from getting to school or causing them to be pushed out from school. A research conducted by FAWE Ghana (2001) revealed that one major constraint to girl-child education was at the onset of menstruation for reasons like abdominal pains, fear of soiling themselves, change in mood and lack of toilet and water facilities.
Puberty and adolescence can be a challenging time for many girls. In most societies menarche is an indication of a girl’s developing sexuality. Johnson (2005) noted that in Western societies it is argued that menarche convey conflicting societal massages, it represents the beginning of womanhood sexuality, but girls of this age are seen as too young to be sexually active. In many societies, the family and immediate community traditionally provided young people with information and guidance about sex and sexuality. In Ghana information about sex used to be formalized as part of initiation into adult roles in many ethnic groups. In many parts of the developing world which includes Ghana, recent rapid urbanization and migration have meant that families and community network have become more widely dispersed. This may have impacted on sexual socialization and education as well as on the sexual behaviors and sexuality of young people. The effectiveness of traditional family expectations and structures in shaping sexual beliefs expectations and behavior appear to have been substantially weakened with little continuity in sex education within the family and the community.
In Ghana, family members used to watch closely teenage girls and so girls who reached menarche were instructed by their mothers and other females in the community in behaviors associated with menstruation. They were also instructed about taboos to be observed during menstruation. Queen mothers in the community were responsible for conducting the girls throughout puberty rites involving education in hygiene and marriage.
Menstruation is a natural event throughout much of women’s life, yet it is often a topic which is seldom and openly discussed. Many women lack sufficient or accurate knowledge about it. They often have misunderstanding and mistaken beliefs passed on by family and communities. Many women do not understand the purpose of menstruation and what happens in their bodies during menstruation.
In-depth studies by population report (2005) found out that the adolescents’ knowledge of fertility and menstruation are very poor in many countries of which Ghana is no exception. For example, in Dakar – Senegal, two thirds of adolescent girls and boys aged between 15 and 19 could not identify the mid point in the menstrual cycle and the time when a woman is likely to get pregnant. (Pop. Report 2005). In lle – Nigeria, some 40% of school girls surveyed did not know the cause and meaning of menstruation. The report further indicated that among school girls ages 12-17 in Tamil Nadu-India more than half of girls who used old cloth, napkin or only their undergarments as a menstrual product washed them only once or twice a day rather than four or five times a day as is best, much of what these girls had learned concerned restrictions to their mobility and behavior during menstruation and superstitions about they being ‘polluters’ of the environment.
Social change has broken down most of these social structure and studies on sexual maturation and menstrual hygiene management among school girls in Ghana. Studies elsewhere also revealed that adolescent girls have very little information about menstruation before they experience their first menstruation and this ignorance leads to various reactions including worry, shyness, embarrassment and nervousness. Another significant finding is the lack of adequate education about the hygienic management of menstruation and the provision of facilitating for disposal of menstrual materials. This situation is worsened among the rural communities in the country where access to information are more difficult.
STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
Women make up half of the population in the world; about 51% according to the Population report (2005) contribute two-thirds of all work hours and raise almost all of the world’s children. Educating girls lead directly to better family health, economic growth and lower rate of child mortality and malnutrition. In other words girl’s education is a simple and attainable strategy to help overcome poverty. It is also the right of the girls to be in school. Girls as well as boys are encouraged to enroll in school; however studies show that in terms of retention and performance the girls are at a disadvantage. One reason among many is that there are problems associated with the sexual maturation and the proper management practices associated with the girls.
In recent years girls reach the first menarche at an early age than they use to. The social structure of the earlier ages took upon themselves to educate girls as to what to do. Of late girls are left to their own fate. Lack of adequate information for these girls especially those of the rural area lead these girls to frustration and then finding their own solution which is not the best. Hence most of these girls dropping out of school. These bring some questions like:
Is it the family ties that are breaking apart?
Why is the community not doing its work through the queen mothers?
Is the school curriculum not teaching girls sex education?
What is the policy maker doing about these pressing issues?
It is on this note that Alliance for African Women Initiative (AFAWI Ghana) in collaboration with other NGOs like FAWE Ghana , Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, Ghana Integrity Initiative with funding from Mama Cash Fund For Women embarked on this research on the management of sexual maturation and menstrual hygiene in three regions of Ghana namely: Brong Ahafo, Northern and Upper East regions to find out where the problems lie so as to team up with advocates, stakeholders, government, policy makers and all who are interested in girl-child education to find lasting solution to the problems of menstrual and sexual management in the society.
The study was both qualitative and quantitative therefore; it used both primary and secondary data. The primary source was solicited from school children, teachers, educationist, opinion leaders via the semi structured interview schedule and key informant interviews. The secondary data was gathered from the journals, text books, magazines, newspapers, television news, internet, and past project documentations.
MAJOR FINDINGS, SUMMARY, CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION
These sections summarises the major findings of the study, and these include the relationship between the respondents’ demographic characteristics and sexual maturation and menstrual management practices, the knowledge of respondents about menstruation, traditional and customs and its relationship with sexual maturation and menstrual management practices and management of menstruation and hygiene practices.
• Education is an important tool in the development of every society. Age and religion were used as variables in the study of the sexual maturation and the management of menstrual practices. The respondents were in categories. 10.4% of primary school pupils and 89.6 Junior high school pupils. The study showed that menstruation does not only start with only girls at the Junior high school but also some primary school girls experience menstruation at ages between average age of 9 and 13 years.
• All the boys who were interviewed, about 87% teased the girls who are menstruating and this attitude and behaviour makes the girls uncomfortable.
• Christianity dominates in all the community visited except in the Northern region where Islam stood tall among the religion.
• The study revealed that so far as menstrual management practices are concern, Christians do not prevent menstruating girls from participating in any religious activity with the churches. It only preaches against pre-marital sex.
• Islam on the other hand prevents menstruating girls from participating in the Islamic activities ie they are not supposed to fast or pray during menstruation.
• The effect of religion on the sexual maturation and menstrual management practices fell heavily on African Traditional religion.
• The African Traditional Religion prevents girls who are menstruating from entering the chief’s palace, enter the house of a traditional herbalist, visit river bodies, visit a community fetish, not supposed to cook or go to farm. In summation, she is segregated from the society during menstruation.
• The findings revealed that despite all these menstruating girls are not prevented from going to school.
Menstruation as it is, realised it is not something new in the society, the study revealed that 70% of the respondents had a full knowledge of menstruation and they had the knowledge from mothers, friends, sisters, teachers, meetings and public fora.
• 86% of the respondents have ever menstruated, and this percentage confirmed the earlier information about the knowledge about menstruation.
• Menstruation is not something good according to respondents; about 98% said they felt bad when ever they are menstruating because it makes them uncomfortable.
• As to whom the girls report to when menstruating 66% said their mother, this shows the important role of mothers in the management of menstrual practices and the maturation of their young girls.
The knowledge of cultural practices affecting girls who are menstruating is not restricted to the teacher or the general public, the menstruating girls are also fully aware of the practices especially the negative practices which have already been mention in the summary.
Items used in the management of menstruation include sanitary pad, toilet roll, used cloth, cotton wool. The study showed that toilet roll and used cloth are in high usage in the management of menstruation, (48), 3% and 42.3% respectively. Though these items are not the best, but because of poverty, they can not afford to buy sanitary pad during menstruation.
Also, those who can even afford do not have access to these manufactured protective sanitary materials to support themselves during menstruation due to such factors as availability (distribution in rural areas is uncertain). Consequently they use a variety of unhygienic materials such as leaves, toilet papers and pieces of sacks that may have long-term effects on their health. This compromises the quality of education for the girls.
The study again revealed that:
• The usage of the above items is not permanent, thus change them often that is twice a day. (In the morning and in the evening)
• Menstrual problems include painful menstruation, heavy flow inconsistency of the flow, and abdominal pains, and they manage these problems by taking pain killer, apply hot compresses, sleep, lie flat on the belly, and visit to the near by clinic.
• Menstruation according to the study is no more a sickness 70% explained that if menstruation is a sickness then every woman in this world is sick.
The study further revealed that most of the schools visited did not have facilities to make a menstruating girl comfortable. The respondents said they need facilities such as wash rooms toilet facilities so that it can make them comfortable during menstruation,
Many schools visited were underprivileged and lack sufficient sanitation facilities which are vital not only during a girl's period but at all times generally. Due to inadequate water, toilet facilities and dumping facilities for sanitary wear, many menstruating girls would rather wish to stay at home due to lack of facilities to help them manage their periods than go to school.
There was a medium of teaching sex education in most of the schools visited. It is taught in subjects like general science, life skill, religious and moral education. The findings revealed that these subjects do not emphasis menstrual management practices.
Sexual intercourse is well known among the respondents. Only few of them (14%) confessed that they had sex with their boy lovers before, 86% declined, they were also fully aware of STIs, and said they can only prevent them via the use of condom, sticking to one partner, abstained from sex until marriage and being religious.
• Most of these diseases according to the study are curable except HIV/AIDS.
• It was realised that, the most important factor that make girls to drop out from schools is not the negative cultural practices of menstruation, but rather teenage pregnancy.
• Those who become pregnant find it difficult to come to school again.
• The study also revealed that there are no meaningful educational programmes on sexual maturation and menstrual management practices in the society.
Sexual Maturation and Menstrual Management Practices Associated with school Girls in Ghana particularly in the case study areas, ( Brong –Ahafo region, Northern region and Upper East region) is still a problem to some extent. The problem is not much due to ignorance of the girls or negative socio-culture practices but the time and the form of the teaching of these girls about the subject in the schools and at home. The girls get the information rather too late, also the practical aspect of the lessons on sexual maturation is not taught although the schools and family have improved in imparting knowledge to the adolescence. Another major problem is poverty which still persists in the rural areas of Ghana. The girls themselves agreed that they know the sanitary wears are good and hygienic but they could not afford them. They rather use the unhygienic ones due to poverty and unavailability. The government and other stakeholders are also yet to provide girls-friendly school environment for these areas for conducive learning atmosphere.
• Institution of programs to teach girls about menstruation and sexual management practices. Education about menstruation should start at an early age before girls reach puberty, when taught beforehand, girls would be better prepared emotionally, and psychologically for the experience of menstruation and will have fewer negative reaction, they would be able to better care for themselves during menstruation, especially learning about hygiene practices.
• Intensify the teaching of girls about menstruation as part of adolescent and reproductive health education in our basic and secondary schools can succeed. This teaching should be part of the school curriculum and teaching should be practical. Since the study revealed that in some schools, health education is non existence. This would go a long way to improve the knowledge of girls about menstruation.
• Provision of sanitary facilities in the schools to take care of girls who are menstruating. What are currently available in the basic schools are inadequate, therefore more wash rooms are still needed for menstruating girls
• Materials or books on menstruation should be provided for girls to read and understand the changes that occur in their bodies, the books should teach the various menstrual management and hygiene practices
• There should be massive sensitization of the public about the traditional beliefs and practices relevant to menstruation; this will go a long way to erase the negative beliefs about menstruation from the minds of people.
• Mothers should also be concerned about their girls who are menstruating since the study revealed that girls talk more with their mothers. They should educate their girls about menstruation.
• Teachers should encourage girls who are menstruating to participate in class activities especially allowing them to answer or ask question while sitting. They should also encourage girls who are menstruating to report to the lady teachers in their schools.
• Head teachers/Masters should set up a fund to take care of menstruating girls, money from this fund can be used to buy toiletries, cotton, and other materials that can be used to make a menstruating girl clean.
• Religious organisations that prevent menstruating girls from participating in prayer or any religious activity should be educated on the dangers involved and the effects that it has on the menstruating girls. This type of education should call for attitudinal change.
• NGOs should try as much as possible to mount programmes on sexual maturation and menstrual management practices. They should assist girls especially those with menstrual problems so as to improve their condition.