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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia: Study Illustrates Gaps in Knowledge and Lack of Support for Girls During Puberty

A study led by Dr. Marni Sommer, associate professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, examined girls’ transitions through puberty in Madagascar and ways in which menstruation influences their educational experiences and future sexual and reproductive health. The findings, in the Journal of Early Adolescence, revealed gaps in girls’ knowledge and an absence of support during puberty, varying guidance received about sexuality, and the challenges of managing menstruation in school. Until now little had been known about girls’ experiences of puberty in Madagascar, which has among the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy compared with those in other parts of Africa.

“There was a clear need demonstrated for educational material on puberty for early adolescents, along with teacher training,” said Dr. Sommer, who also found that improved toilet facilities are critically needed to improve menstruating girls’ school-going experiences.

Adolescents are the fastest growing group around the world, the majority of whom live in low-income countries. Adolescent girls in particular are vulnerable in such contexts to negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

The researchers identified the following themes:

(a) gaps in knowledge and timing of guidance delivered during puberty;

(b) caution regarding sex and sexuality after menarche; and

(c) challenges managing menstruation.

“Overall, we found that girls faced numerous challenges engaging actively in school while menstruating due to barriers in school environments,” said Dr. Sommer. “To make a real difference, it is critical that we turn global attention to the needs of girls and to early adolescence as a critical stage of transitioning to a healthy adulthood.”

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