This paper presents the findings of field research among female students regarding their knowledge of menstruation and the actual state of its daily management at public junior high schools in rural areas of Indonesia. The author aims to characterize the local context with regards to menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in the target regions and considers visible and invisible issues in current practices from the viewpoints of health, hygiene, and educational opportunities for girls.
Concerns and awareness about MHM have grown because it is part of the Sustainable Development Goals. In Indonesia, conscientiousness toward menstruating female workers has been institutionalized to some extent and a drive to promote school health and hygiene has been undertaken nationwide. Sanitary napkins have reportedly been circulated at a relatively reasonable price even in rural areas, making them accessible to junior high school students. Although there is still a major gap in development between urban and rural regions of Indonesia, the author heard no reports of difficulties in attending school during menstruation in the field.
Information about menstruation was provided mainly during natural science classes with both male and female students in attendance. Muslim students are also taught religious practices and taboos in relation to the menstrual blood and period. As a result, scientific explanations are often combined with the concept of impurity and recognized as “appropriate” knowledge. Female students attempt to ensure that the menstrual blood is not noticed by male students because they believe that it is impure. Such perceptions affect MHM; for instance, no student was ready to throw a stained napkin away without washing it until the blood faded away. Most girls seemed to prefer to use big napkins that would not leak or wore double napkins to avoid shameful situations.
In conclusion, the issue of MHM in the target areas does not seem to disturb the school attendance of female students. The mechanism of “appropriate” knowledge, however, should be carefully observed to stabilize the active role of female students so that their self-confidence is not affected in relation to locally conceptualized notions of females during menstruation as well as legitimate behavior according to religious or local customs.