It is estimated that one in five girls will miss school due to extreme menstruation symptoms, such as period pain and excessive bleeding. Research carried out in Cardiff showed that “almost a third of students currently feel that their period impacts negatively on their school attendance.”
There is a high probability that some of those students have a gynaecological condition needing medical intervention. However, the lack of education surrounding menstrual well-being in Welsh schools means that girls and young women miss vital information about what’s normal and what’s not.
On the 25th June 2020, a patient-led organisation called “Fair Treatment for the Women of Wales” reported that the Welsh Senedd had closed the petition to make menstrual well-being compulsory on the new Welsh school curriculum. It will now be up to each school, meaning the levels of education students will receive will vary. This news frustrated many people in Wales, and understandably so.
From September 2020, the topic will become mandatory in schools in England, meaning that many students in Wales will fall behind with this knowledge. Additionally, the diagnostic delay for endometriosis in Wales is 8.5 years which is already a year longer than in England. With the addition of this critical well-being becoming mandatory in England, we can expect to see the delays fall there – whilst in Wales, it is likely that the opposite will occur.
Endometriosis is a debilitating gynaecological condition affecting one in ten women and girls. It is largely unheard of, meaning that many young girls suffer for years before getting a diagnosis. Without menstrual well-being education, these one in ten girls are being deprived of essential education which could see them get answers to their suffering.
I spoke to Anna Cooper, a woman living with endometriosis in Wales, about how she feels regarding the lack of menstrual education. Cooper was diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis 2 weeks before her 18th birthday, despite her symptoms first becoming debilitating when she was just 14.
I asked Cooper if she’d received any menstrual well-being education at school and she replied saying: “Most definitely not. We were only taught basic sex education.”
Cooper explained how her “teachers often would make sly remarks as if (her symptoms) were an excuse to miss sports lessons” and how “if only (she) was taken seriously and teachers recognised the signs”.
“It is vital that it becomes compulsory in all school curriculums. Wales already falls behind in being able to provide care for women with endometriosis,” said Cooper. “We need to normalise talk surrounding menstrual health and ensure young girls have the confidence to talk about any concerns they have. To not suffer in silence for years and not to be told that painful periods are normal”.
Menstrual well-being should be compulsory in all schools, no matter which country you live in. Let’s make sure that we use our voices to educate the next generation of young girls. No one should have to suffer alone. We have a duty to protect our women and young girls.
AUTHOR: Holly Hostettler-Davies