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An ecological exploration of how South African university students negotiate their menstruation within the university system.

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Objective of the study The purpose of this study is to contribute to the ‘demedicalisation” of menstruation among university students. It aimed to do this by using a socio-ecological model to explore the way in which a sample of female University residence students experience and negotiate their menstruation within the university context. Method Two focus group interviews were conducted with a sample of nine female participants who resided in the university student residences. Thematic data analysis was used to analyse the data. Findings The findings of this study highlight that there are a number of intersecting factors that impact on how university students experience their menstruation. The findings of this study showed that a number of factors combine to result in menstruation experiences that have a negative impact on the students’ academic performance. For example, their performance is not just affected by internal, physiological factors, but by wider structural issues such as a lack of clean university bathrooms that prevents them from changing their sanitary pads at university and forces them to leave campus early. It was also found that a lack of appropriate education on methods of managing menstrual pain results in students managing their menstrual symptoms by taking medication that causes, for example, drowsiness. This research challenges the medical approach towards menstruation and creates awareness of other factors that impact on students’ experiences of menstruation such as wider socio-cultural discourses, gendered relationships, significant interpersonal relationships, university infrastructure and economic status. Conclusion This research has contributed to a body of research that highlights how contextual factors intersect to influence how university students experience their menstruation. There is a need for structural interventions that acknowledge that students should not be expected to manage menstruation on their own, but should, rather be able to expect their university to provide appropriate resources to improve their menstruation experiences while at university.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.