AN ONLINE petition launched by a Shetland woman calling on the Scottish Government to “stop brushing conversations about menstrual health at school under the carpet” and introduce compulsory education into the curriculum has been signed by over 400 people.
Shaunee Jamieson, who is originally from Sandwick, has endometriosis – a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
It is a chronic and debilitating condition that causes painful or heavy periods, while it may also lead to infertility, fatigue and bowel and bladder problems.
Shaunee, 23, said she only learned of her condition after she began training as a midwife in Aberdeen five years ago, as she did not realise it was not normal.
She was encouraged to start the petition, which has the support of national charity Endometriosis UK, in a bid for menstrual wellbeing to be taught in all schools across Scotland.
Shaunee hopes that this could mean students can spot and understand symptoms of conditions like endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and heavy menstrual bleeding earlier, and not delay seeking help.
“From a young age, I normalised the chronic pain I was enduring because I wasn’t taught any different,” she said.
“I was led to believe that painful periods were just a normal part of growing up and being a woman.
“Like many, I suffered in silence for the majority of my school life: I spent days in bed because of chronic pelvic pain, I missed out on school days and my education suffered as a result. I once fainted in the shower because this pain became too much, but I didn’t visit the GP because I had no idea what I was suffering from wasn’t normal.
“Neither did my family, friends and the world around me – because none of us were taught any different. This left me suffering in isolating and painful silence for years.
“I’ll never forget the embarrassment and shame of making constant trips to the bathroom because of my endometriosis symptoms, and the confusion felt by both me and my peers at what I was going through.”
Shaunee was previously given the pill in a bid to regulate the effects of periods, but after being diagnosed years later she had keyhole surgery.
She said her condition is “well managed” now and nowhere near as bad as it was – but there are still occasional flare-ups.
Endometriosis affects over 1.5 million women in the UK, but the current diagnosis time sits at seven and a half years.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said that “relationships, sexual health and parenthood education is an integral part of the health and wellbeing curriculum and it is for local authorities and schools to decide how best to deliver the curriculum based on local needs and circumstances, with learning about endometriosis introduced in secondary schools”.
“We want to ensure women living with endometriosis are able to access the best possible care and support and benefit from healthcare services that are safe, effective and put people at the centre of their care,” they added.
“This year’s Programme for Government 2019 announced a Women’s Health Plan to underpin actions to focus on reducing inequalities in health outcomes which only affect women, such as endometriosis.”
Scotland does not have a statutory curriculum, but learning about relationships, sexual health and parenthood education (RSHP) begins early on in primary school right up to S4-S6.
The government said a new online RSHP resource was launched last month that will “strengthen the delivery of RSHP education across Scotland”.
The resource provides 133 learning activities for use in all education settings and is aligned with curriculum for excellence.
Topics include healthy relationships, consent, sexual health and reproduction, emotional wellbeing, equalities, gender and parenthood. These are areas children and young people have told us they want to learn about.
The decision on which elements of the resource are used is one for teachers’ professional judgement.
The government added that pupils will learn about menstruation from P5 to P7 under the new online RSHP resource. Endometriosis is introduced between S1 to S3.
The Scottish Government also provided £15,000 of new funding to Endometriosis UK this year to support a project which will deliver training so that more women in Scotland can benefit from peer support for endometriosis.