By: Shahid Husain
Karachi: The lack of awareness prevalent amongst female adolescents regarding personal health and hygiene has been highlighted in a recent doctoral thesis published by the Karachi University’s (KU) Department of Sociology.
The thesis study, titled ‘Sociological Study of Health Awareness among Female Adolescents (Age 12-16)’, presents an interesting analysis of a pressing issue in a society where sex education has not yet been incorporated in the graduate level curriculum of medical colleges.
Conducted by Bilquis Rehman, a doctorate student of the KU’s sociology department, under the supervision of Dr Rana Saba Sultan, the study reveals that 68 percent of girls within the age bracket of 12 to 16 have a “healthy” attitude towards health awareness, while 32 percent lacked in proper knowledge and practices.
“An unhealthy attitude refers to a lax attitude towards personal health matters such as regularly washing hands, taking showers and adhering to hygienic practices during menstruation, along with non-availability of or limited access to health services,” Rehman told The News.
The thesis findings concluded that the awareness levels of adolescent girls have a significant association with mothers’ education and economic background. It also cites figures for adolescents’ awareness regarding puberty, with only 11 percent deemed as being “aware”, while 38 percent were “unaware” and 52 percent had limited, insufficient knowledge.
A major reason for this lack of awareness is inaccessibility to the right of information, as stated in the doctoral thesis, which also found girls deprived of access to health services in case of problems and complications. “Female adolescents’ knowledge of major transmissible life-threatening diseases such as Hepatitis B and HIV is also very low, whereas information about sexually transmitted infections borders on a mere one percent. The role played by schools in providing information regarding personal hygiene and health services is found to be very meagre,” the study states.
The study also highlights the fact that, according to gender equality indicators, 59 percent of adolescent females face gender discrimination at home and are not treated at par with their male siblings. Adopting a quantitative approach, the study was conducted through interviews with 384 girls from the public schools of 18 towns of Karachi. The findings reveal comprehensive information about the adolescents’ health awareness and also provide knowledge of their socio-economic conditions.
The stratified proportional sampling technique was also used in the conduction of the study, with the number of girls selected being proportionate to the total number of females enrolled in each town, from the sixth to the ninth standard.
The majority’s ethnic background was Urdu-speaking, with the fewest being Balochi and Gujarati, and 98 percent of the respondents were Muslims. Moreover, a large portion of the girls hailed from families belonging to the lower income group, ranging from Rs 2,001 to Rs 5,000 per month, with only eight percent of families earning more than Rs 15,000 per month.
Another major finding of the study was regarding the level of information about health and hygiene amongst adolescent girls. “At least 43 percent girls are well-informed, while 45 percent were moderately informed and 12 percent had very little knowledge about proper health and hygiene needs,” the study states.
It adds that, as a developing country, the prevalent socio-economic conditions of Pakistan are not favourable for girls and emphasises upon the need for consistent and rigorous steps to improve adolescent girls’ health and access to information. “It is recommended that provision of basic health services should be ensured through schools, whereas health education, especially with regards to reproductive health, should be included in school curriculums and their adherence made possible through strict policies,” the thesis states.
Women Development Secretary Noor Muhammad Legahri lauded Rehman’s efforts in conducting the study and assured efforts for the implementation of its recommendations.
Dr Shaikh Tanveer, chief executive of the non-profit HANDS also appreciated Rahman’s passion to create awareness among adolescent girls.