Amanda Hollwey on Period Education for the Next Generation of Students and Teachers | HundrED Innovation Summit
Amanda Hollwey, is the Head of Marketing at betty for schools, which is a period-education program breaking the taboo surrounding periods with education. Betty for schools provides free PSHE Association accredited resources that teachers can use to educate their pupils aged 8-12 about periods.
What are the problems with educating girls on their periods and puberty?
The problem at the moment is that in schools, it is not a subject that has enough focus and when it is taught in schools, they really focus on the biological aspects, instead of all the emotional aspects. We all know as women that cramps are very real and we are struggling with our hormones, and so, instead of addressing the hormonal aspects, they (the students) learn what period is but they don’t learn how to cope with it. The second thing is that we don’t teach boys about periods in schools. Boys don’t understand what periods are either. That’s when we start seeing boys make fun of girls, which leads to girls losing their confidence. They get really shy and embarrassed about it and that is really the big problem. We need to remove the embarrassment about periods.
How does betty for schools address these problems?
So our program is designed for girls and boys. We teach in mixed classrooms, but we also provide a safe space for girls outside of the classroom, which are facilitator-led. This helps them feel more comfortable about talking about periods. We get them to shout out the word period, so it becomes a very normal word for them. We play games, get them to present back. We teach them how to talk to their friends about periods and how to talk to adults about periods. Also, if they are having any problems or have any questions, they have a safe space to go. We also have an online forum so that if they don’t want to go and speak to someone themselves, they can go and ask any questions. On our website, they have a safe space for them to go and ask anything they want - from what colour their blood should look like to why am I feeling a little bit low once a month?
Why is it important for these conversations to be more open?
Most girls all over the world have a period - that is 50% of the population. We need to talk about this. It shouldn’t be something that I have to hide. It shouldn’t be something that holds girls back and we see that happen a lot at the moment. We have seen a lot in the UK that when girls are on their periods, they don’t really understand what is happening or how to manage it. So, they are just skipping school. Then, we have girls, once a month, not going to school because they are on their period. So we need to start talking about it, educating girls about what period is. But then again, as I said, we also need to talk to boys. So that they understand what period is and don’t make fun of girls. It is all about building confidence and allowing girls to live their lives without shame or embarrassment that periods can sometimes hold.
Why is it important for boys to be included in these discussions?
Boys have to be included in these discussions because periods affect boys everyday - their mums have periods, their sisters have periods, their friends have periods. If they don’t understand it, we see that children automatically (since they don’t understand it) make fun of it. So if they are making fun of girls that is not helpful for anyone. We have spoken to boys for the last year and have had specific boys lessons. We found that when we talk to boys about periods, 70% of boys are then more comfortable talking about it and we have seen a really big benefit of boys in schools helping support girls. We have heard the feedback from teachers that this has shown a massive improvement in how the students behave around periods within schools.
What would you tell educators who want to teach about menstruation?
Teachers need to talk about periods in a really open, normalised fashion. We found that some teachers don’t understand how to teach the topic of periods. Within the classrooms, they shy away from it. This is when they just put a textbook in front of a girl or a boy and just expect them to understand what period is. What our program tries to do is help teachers deliver the topic of periods in the classroom in a much more informal manner, so that they can start having these conversations with the children in their classrooms as well as learn with the children. We have a lot of material for teachers to learn about periods and also to help deliver the lesson in the classroom.
To learn more about betty for schools, check out their innovation page.