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Spotlight on life skills: When menstruation is taboo

July 23, 2018

Skill building Cambodia

News Copy with Callout Give girls a voice.

When was the last time you overheard a teen girl comfortably talk about menstruation?

This rarely discussed topic often sits in the corners of whispered conversations, discussed with blushed cheeks and few questions.

Yet, in many cultures around the world, including Cambodia, menstruation remains taboo, leaving girls to navigate puberty on their own.

“Women, girls, or anyone in the community for that matter, rarely discuss sexual health,” says Soveun Sok, a local housewife.


With lack of conversation comes problems. Misunderstandings emerge around the body,  sanitary practices, and how to care for infections. 

At worst, Cambodian girls end up seeking help from the wrong hands, taking improper medications that can lead to further complications.


However, Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program is changing that.


In today's life skills session, program participants sit around the room to learn about puberty. The social mobilizer at the head of the circle asks girls to share their preconceived notions about menstruation.

"Does anyone want to share how they felt about their first period?"

The room falls silent. Slowly, a few hands raise with blushed cheeks. This response is quite common in the early stages of the lesson.

“I found it very difficult to open up about any topic that involves sexual health, because none of my family members have ever talked about it,” says Kimhorng Vor, a Girls' Education Program participant.

Other girls mention fears that someone might notice when they're on their period. To solve this matter, the social mobilizer breaks down the basics of menstruation, discussing everything from how to use sanitary napkins and tampons to healthy hygiene habits.

“After a while, students are even able to share their knowledge with the wider community through Room to Read’s Medical Camp. It's been a very helpful resource.”Nead BunnaGirls' Education Program Manager

After the class, girls are introduced to a book called “Growth and Change" for further exploration. They're also invited to discuss concerns about their bodies with a social mobilizer, and are introduced to a local health care center should they experience any abnormalities.

“Through life skills classes on menstruation, girls are able to comfortably get more information about their own bodies. They also pass on this knowledge to their younger sisters or other family members, so they become aware of these changes at an early age,” says Nead Bunna, Girls’ Education Program Manager of Room to Read Cambodia.


Want to give more girls access to life skills?


Become a monthly donor and just $6.25/month       funds one year of life skills education for a Girls' Education Program participant.

“After a while, students are even able to share their knowledge with the wider community through Room to Read’s Medical Camp. It's been a very helpful resource.” Nead Bunna Girls' Education Program Manager

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