Why is Menstrual Wellbeing education so important?
Menstrual health affects all female/AFAB pupils in Wales. 52% of the classroom and a significant chunk of the population will have periods and menstrual wellbeing also affects male pupils as they have relationships with sisters, mothers, co-workers, friends, and life-partners.
Most girls are starting their periods at the same time they start secondary school. Menstrual Wellbeing education would teach young people what to expect, what is and isn’t normal, and when to seek help. Symptoms of endometriosis and other benign gynaecological conditions can begin at around the same time as menstruation.
A 2020 study carried out in Australia[i] suggests that:
|· 84% of young women think pelvic pain during their periods is normal
• 65% think that pelvic pain when not having a period is normal
• Almost 40% think nausea and vomiting are part of a normal period
A study done by Plan International[ii] suggests that the number missing school in the UK as a result of heavy and / or painful periods is as high as 49%!
At FTWW, we believe that compulsory Menstrual Wellbeing Education would destigmatise menstruation, overcome the existing sense of embarrassment so many feel about the topic, and better inform young people about what constitutes a normal period and when to seek medical help. Another positive would be a future generation of health care professionals who are informed and unbiased when it comes to menstrual health issues.
Some of those menstrual health issues with which pupils will be living include:
|Heavy Menstrual Bleeding
|1 in 5
1 in 10
|Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)||affecting||1 in 20 to 1 in 10 [iii]|
|Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)||affecting||1 in 20 [iv]|
|Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI)||affecting||1 in 100 before the age of 40 [v]|
FTWW is of the opinion that compulsory Menstrual Wellbeing Education would guarantee that all pupils in Wales would be taught the same content, by personnel with specialist training, and in dedicated lessons. In England, the topic was made mandatory from September 2020 – in Wales, the new curriculum being proposed would see it only as an ‘option’ for schools.
The Campaign – A timeline:
Following a year of meetings with FTWW, the Minister for Health, Vaughan Gething, published the Welsh Government’s Endometriosis Task & Finish Group’s recommendations. One of these was to make certain Menstrual Wellbeing education is taught in Wales from primary school level upwards. Having agreed with the recommendations, the Minister created the Women’s Health Implementation Group (WHIG) to make sure the recommendations would be carried out.
At about the same time, the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, was working on a new school curriculum for Wales based on Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLE). Our members participated in consultations where they explained why it’s important to make Menstrual Wellbeing Education a required part of the Health and Wellbeing AoLE.
FTWW met with Kirsty Williams (read about the meeting here), and members were invited to attend a workshop exploring gender issues as part of the Health & Wellbeing AoLE. At both the meeting and workshop, FTWW put forward a strong case to make Menstrual Wellbeing Education compulsory. We also explained that it was unreasonable to expect teachers without specialist training to deliver Menstrual Wellbeing education ‘discreetly’, embedding it within the delivery of their own academic coursework.
FTWW’s founder meets with Kirsty Williams, June 2019
The Education Minister introduced the Education Department’s Bill to the Senedd declaring that the core aim of the new curriculum was to ‘raise standards for all (and) reduce the attainment gap’.
However, despite a growing body of evidence showing how lack of knowledge about periods and how to manage associated health issues, causes increased absences and reduced performance in lessons, the new Bill does not include Menstrual Wellbeing as a compulsory subject.
The new Bill then started the beginning of a law-making process due for completion by April 2021. Part of this process consisting of the Senedd’s Children and Young People’s Education Committee to scrutinise all evidence pertaining to the curriculum.
FTWW, both independently and in collaboration with Endometriosis UK, submited a letter asking again for compulsory Menstrual Wellbeing Education, signed by over 20 organisations across the UK, including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), Women’s Equality Network Wales (WEN Wales), the Women’s Institute, and lots, lots more. To read the letter and see a full list of signatories, click here:
As part of the Senedd CYPE Committee’s review, FTWW also completed their online survey asking for opinions on the new curriculum and submitted a detailed report looking at how far the decision not to make Menstrual Wellbeing Education mandatory is in line with existing conventions and legislation to which the Welsh Government has signed-up. This included:
The United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child
The United Nations Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women
The UK Equality Act 2010
The Social Services and Wellbeing Act (Wales) 2014
The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015
To read our submission to the Senedd CYPE Committee, which includes personal stories and anecdotes from FTWW members and the wider community, please click here:
What Happens Now?
At this time, whilst the Senedd CYPE Committee reviews the evidence, things remain unchanged: in Wales, teachers and schools will be given the freedom to decide whether to teach Menstrual Wellbeing or not.
Unlike pupils in England, those in Wales cannot rely on receiving the education they need to destigmatise menstruation, learn how to manage their periods and if / when to seek medical help. Instead, a significant proportion of pupils who menstruate in Wales will continue to find their performance in class impacted, their school attendance disrupted, and for some, the possibility of being severely affected by health conditions that go undiagnosed or untreated for many years.
FTWW will continue to campaign to see this change.