Reproductive health: Menstruation, puberty should be discussed openly 

Participants in the workshop
Prothom Alo

Teenagers often have questions about reproductive health and puberty. They wonder about suitable food during menstruation and what to avoid, the causes of excessive bleeding, delayed facial hair growth for boys, and also about tetanus (TT) or diphtheria vaccines.

These concerns were addressed in a workshop titled 'Adolescent and Youth-Friendly Reproductive Health Care,' which took place at Manipur High School and College's auditorium in Rupnagar, Mirpur, in the capital. 

Pathfinder International and Prothom Alo, with support from Prothom Alo Bondhushava, organised the workshop as part of the USAID 'Sukhi Jibon' project. This event was the last followed by three previous workshops on adolescent and youth-friendly reproductive healthcare held in Sylhet, Chattogram, and Mymensingh. 

Teens participating in the workshop said that while menstruation is a natural physiological process, it still remains a topic that isn't openly discussed. Instances of boys making jokes about menstruation are common. Conversely, boys often find it challenging to discuss their own puberty-related issues. 

Over 200 students from classes IX to XII representing Manipur High School and College, Kamal Ahmed Majumdar School and College, Rupnagar Government Secondary School, Dhaka Commerce College, and Cambrian School and College participated in the workshop. 

Numerous participants shared that their friends and peers often tease them for not having grown a beard at the expected time. They expressed a desire for more open discussions about such matters. 

Fatima Shabnam, Adolescent and Youth Specialist of the USAID Sukhi Jibon Project, emphasised the importance of openly discussing reproductive health. She highlighted the need to raise awareness among parents and teachers, enabling adolescents to receive accurate information about reproductive health and related issues. 

She mentioned that even during her teenage years, she heard the notion that sour fruits should be avoided during menstruation. However, the reality is that a wide range of healthy foods, including sour and vitamin C-rich options, can be consumed without issue during menstruation. 

She advised that if someone experiences heavy bleeding, requiring a change of sanitary pads more than five times a day and lasting longer than usual, it's advisable to consult a physician. 

Farhana Haque, the Regional Programme Manager of the USAID Sukhi Jibon Project in Dhaka, provided insights into reproductive health. She highlighted that irregular menstruation during adolescence, early marriage, and having multiple children elevate the risk of uterine cancer in women. Addressing student inquiries, she emphasised the importance of receiving 5 doses of the TT vaccine starting from the age of 15 for a safe pregnancy. 

She further said, it's important to understand that hormone activity in everyone's body might not synchronise equally at the same time. As a result, puberty might be delayed for some individuals. However, this is no cause for concern. The process of voice changes is also a natural part of this progression. 

Following their participation in group discussions on four different topics during the workshop, the teenagers expressed their group's opinions. Participants like Hamid Elahi Saad, Fatema Antu, Sanjida Khan, Sanjana Islam, Zareen Subah Rafa, Mehjabin Cynthia, Naima Islam, and Abdul Qayyum emphasised the necessity for family members and teachers to take the initiative in educating teenagers about reproductive health. They stressed that it's not a matter of shame; rather, it should be openly discussed. 

Zakir Hossain, the Acting Principal of Manipur High School and College, pointed out that discussing reproductive health was once deemed taboo. However, a lack of understanding in this area can be perilous. Recognizing its significance, the government has integrated this subject into textbooks. He encouraged students to convey the insights gained from this workshop to others. 

Rezwana Karim Snigdha, Associate Professor of the Anthropology Department at Jahangirnagar University, emphasised the need for societal reforms and shifts in perspectives concerning menstruation and puberty.  

She noted that in the modern age, there's a requirement for apps that assist in tracking a woman's upcoming period, identifying safe times for motherhood, and providing insights into motherhood itself. 

Abu Akhtaruzzaman Bhuiyan, the Digital Health Manager of the USAID Sukhi Jibon Project, shared information about various government helpline numbers and service centres during the workshop. He highlighted that a significant amount of misinformation related to reproductive health circulates online.

He advised teenagers to steer clear of these misconceptions and instead seek authentic information. By accessing the app "Kishore Batayan," individuals can find answers to a range of queries covering teenage life, adolescent reproductive health, issues related to adolescence, love relationships, and the negative impacts of child marriage. 

The workshop was moderated by Ridwanul Masroor, Communications and Information Manager, USAID Sukhi Jibon Project. 

In his welcome address, Firoz Choudhury, Assistant Editor of Prothom Alo, emphasised the necessity for social reform to ensure comprehensive reproductive health care for adolescents and young individuals. He underscored that collaborative efforts through public-private initiatives are indispensable for achieving this goal. 

Several individuals also spoke at the workshop. Senior reporter of Prothom Alo, Naznin Akhtar, Chattogram Bondhushava President Ibrahim Tanveer, Sylhet Bondhushava Organising Secretary Samir Baishnab, Mymensingh Bondhushava member Mehedi Hasan, and Daffodil University Bondhushava member Sharmin Akhtar shared their insights and perspectives.