Unlike most developed countries, Nepalese schools have never really had proper reproductive education in schools. Talking about anything that is related to sex in public is still very taboo. The official high school textbook for the subject of Health Population and Environment (HPE) has a chapter or two about “reproductive health” and “adolescent health”, but it only explains physical changes during adolescence for boys and girls.
Health education, especially reproductive health is lacking in many Nepali school so this type of program is very important for us to conduct.
Despite these chapters existing within the textbook, most teachers of HPE hesitate to teach these chapters, and often tell their student to study these chapters on their own. If a brave teacher decides to teach the chapters, female students often skip these classes because they are too embarrassed to attend because most of the HPE teachers are male. So the students of Nepal are deprived from adequate reproductive health education, especially girls.
Having a female teacher address these topics helped to make the girls feel much more comfortable.
To address the need for better reproductive health education, Rukmini Foundation recently held a Reproductive and Adolescent Health session in Sikharapur School. While we knew that this single program could not address all of the issues, one of the key aims of the class was to teach the students, especially girls, about reproductive health by a trained professional who also happened to be female. We were very fortunate to have Ms. Durga Gautam, a trained nurse at a prominent hospital in Kathmandu come to conduct this program for us.
Ms. Durga had the attention of both boys and girls during this session.
Ms. Durga Gautam stated, “It is very important have young girls taught about reproductive health by a female because girls tend to open up more in front of a female teacher”. We made a conscious decision to also welcome the boys to this class and to our surprise, all of them also expressed their desire to attend the class. Altogether, there were close to 70 students in the class. Ms. Durga herself was surprised and said, “this is very encouraging sign that both girls and boys want to learn about reproductive health together”. In fact, it is very customary in Nepal to segregate reproductive health class according to gender.
Ms. Durga gave a short presentation on some of the changes that occur during the adolescent phase. She explained about the general changes, both physical and psychological, experience by boys and girls. In addition, she talked about the importance of personal hygiene, which is of critical importance especially during menstruation. She also explained about the negative physical effects of early marriage and early pregnancy, which is something very common in Nepal.
The class, both boys and girls enjoyed Ms. Durga’s presentation.
The final part of the session was an interactive question answer session. We were a little worried that there would be very few if any questions asked by the students, but to our surprise, there were a torrent of questions for Ms. Durga. “Why does menstruation occur?”, “What is the right age for being pregnant?”, “Why do boys have facial hair?”, “What is the remedy for cramps?”, were just some of the questions asked.
The students, to our surprise, were not afraid to ask questions.
After the session, I asked the students for their opinion about the program. Rashmita Balami from grade 9 said, “Ms. Durga used slide shows and videos to explain these topics in an easy to understand manner. We were used to learning only through lectures from the teachers, but we learned many things in this class from the presentation materials”. Another student from the same grade, Deepika Balami said, “Since our teacher was a female like me, it was very easy to ask questions about reproductive health.”
Although the reproductive health awareness class that we offered is limited, I believe that this is an important step towards more education on reproductive health, which is such a key factor to the well-being of the girls of the Pharping region. We are planning similar classes for all of our partner schools in the near future. This sort of class will not only benefit our scholars, but all other students who take part in such classes. Thank you again to Ms. Durga for being a great teacher and role model for the girls.
Program Manager, Rukmini Foundation