Investigating menstrual hygiene facilities and education opportunities for female learners in the Western Cape

Master Thesis


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The completed study investigated menstrual hygiene facilities and the related education opportunities presented for female learners in selected primary and secondary schools in the Ocean View area of the Western Cape Province of South Africa. Despite female learners’ school enrolment having improved in the region in recent years, large gender inequality gaps in primary education still exist and are even more evident in secondary education. In South Africa, menstrual hygiene and the inability of female learners to go to school when they are experiencing their periods is not just a sanitation issue, nor is it a physiological one. Rather, it is something that has wider socio-economic implications with historical connotations, given where this country has come from. Furthermore, this study attempted to address some of the gaps in existing, theoretical knowledge and policies, particularly social and educational policy, by investigating how menstruation and puberty-related challenges in the context of poor sanitation and menstrual hygiene facilities were exacerbating gender inequalities in the South African education system. A qualitative research design was used to gain an enriched understanding of the female learners’ perceptions and experiences regarding the state of the menstrual hygiene facilities at their schools and the influence of these facilities on their educational opportunities. This study highlights that menstrual hygiene management continues to receive limited attention in government policies, research priorities, programmes and resource allocation, and the information available to the public tends to be informed by anecdotal evidence. Moreover, most sanitation and hygiene interventions in developing countries are failing to address all needs required for female learners to manage menstruation appropriately in the school environment. Further, sanitation facility design usually does not address the specific needs of women and the girl child. The research findings from the study completed shows that inadequate sanitation and menstrual hygiene facilities impedes the female learners’ ability to make the most of their education opportunities. Consequently, the study suggests that there is a need for a comprehensive social policy approach to address the identified gaps in policies related to menstrual hygiene management in the South African school environment.