This week amendments on menstrual wellbeing were tabled to the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill by Suzy Davies MS writes Mia Rees.
On Tuesday (March 2) these amendments were put to the Senedd and voted on. They asked for the teaching of menstrual wellbeing to be a compulsory part of the new curriculum in Wales.
Why did these amendments matter?
52% of young people menstruate, and 25% of the UK female population suffer from menstrual health conditions. Many of those were told for years that they were just experiencing “bad periods” when it was much more serious.
A recent report by the All-Party-Parliamentary Group on Endometriosis highlighted the already growing disparities in endometriosis care across the UK. Women in Wales wait the longest for a diagnosis – on average over 9 years – and over half stated that endometriosis had badly impacted their education and career. Post COVID, some have also been told they’ll be waiting up to 3 years or more for surgery. This isn’t just about endometriosis, there are also too many women in our communities dealing with other conditions, including polycystic ovary syndrome, with too many being diagnosed late or not seeking help at all.
It is absolutely vital that all young people, regardless of gender, understand what is happening to their bodies as they go through puberty, and recognise the symptoms of what a normal menstrual cycle is, so they know when and how to seek help if something isn’t right. Without this knowledge, young people will continue to suffer in silence, without access to the help and support they need – potentially having a huge impact on their physical and mental health, education and future career.
If young women had the knowledge to seek help sooner, they could be given the support to manage their condition and not have to miss as much school – minimalizing the impact on their education, career and mental wellbeing. Evidence shows that far too many young people do not recognise what is happening to their bodies, and are forced to take time away from their education.
The Minister for Education in Wales has been clear from early on that Relationships and Sexuality Education (the new name for Sex Ed) would be compulsory for all students. I will not get into the debates on if RSE should be compulsory for all pupils here, but if it is to be compulsory it is hugely important that that young people are taught about what a “normal” period is and what the signs are that something isn’t right.
In the debate on Tuesday the Minster said “I absolutely do commit and have received reassurances that menstrual well-being and health will be part of our statutory RSE code”. So although the amendments (that had support from Members of all political colours) were voted down, the Minister’s reassurance gives me hope. The RSE code, will underpin what is taught in RSE and although it has not yet been published it will go before the Senedd for a vote will give us another chance to hold the Welsh Government to their word.
Frankly, if the Welsh Government really wants to invest in its young people, have a curriculum that’s fit for purpose and meets the needs of young people, menstrual wellbeing needs to be a compulsory part of the curriculum. This will ensure that our daughters are informed and don’t have to go through what too many of their mothers and Grandmothers did, suffering in silence.