Mother-Daughter Communication about Puberty in Egypt

Maia Sieverding, American University of Beirut
Ahmed Ali, American University of Beirut -Faculty of Health Sciences
Norhan Bader, American University of Beirut- Faculty of Health Sciences

Parental communication with adolescents during puberty can be a protective factor as young people manage the physical and emotional changes experienced during these ages. In Egypt, little is known about girls’ communication with parents or other sources of information around puberty. We use the nationally representative Survey of Young People in Egypt (SYPE) 2014 to examine the experiences and views of young women aged 13 – 34 around puberty. To help interpret the findings, we draw on in-depth interviews with 29 young mothers in Greater Cairo about their communication with their daughters about puberty.

Results from the SYPE show that nationally, two-thirds of young women reported knowing about menstruation prior to having their first period. Among those who spoke with someone about puberty, the large majority (80.6%) spoke with their mother. Girls in the youngest age group (13-17) were slightly more likely to have spoken with someone about puberty than those in older cohorts (p<0.05). When respondents were asked at what age they thought it is appropriate to discuss puberty with youth and (43.3%) mentioned ‘at menstruation/ puberty’ rather than a specific age. However, the qualitative data suggest that responses fail to capture nuances in when mothers think it is appropriate to talk to their daughters about different aspects of puberty such as menstruation, physical changes hygiene, and sex.

Our findings overall suggest that while mothers want to and do play a primary role in communicating with girls about puberty, these discussions are constrained by lack of information and embarrassment, and might be delayed or avoided due to strong social norms about what and when is appropriate for girls to know regarding different aspects of puberty. At the same time, younger generations of mothers may be adopting more open attitudes to discussing puberty with their daughters.


Adolescence is a key period duringwhich young people experience a range of changes, yet many go through pubertyunprepared and with unaddressed concerns. Parent- adolescent communication isconsidered a protective factor during puberty. Studies suggest that betteradolescent sexual health outcomes are associated with the increase in thefrequency and comfort level of conversations with their parents. In Egypt,adolescent girls lack access to sexual and reproductive health information.Hence, they remain unprepared while going through puberty. There has beenlittle national-level analysis of what girls in Egypt learn about puberty and wherethey learn this information from, or studies regarding the content or nature oftheir discussions with parents around puberty.

In this paper, we use nationallyrepresentative survey data from Egypt to examine the patterns of girls’communication with their mothers. We then analyze young mothers’ views oncommunication with their daughters around different aspects of puberty, paying attentionto intergenerational change and continuity in how women learn about puberty.

Methods

Our quantitative data source is the2014 Survey of Young People in Egypt (SYPE), which captures a broad range ofoutcomes related to the transition to adulthood for a sample of 10,916 youngEgyptians aged 13 – 35. We restrict our analysis to the 5,794 young women who hadtheir first menstrual period at the time of the survey. The SYPE health moduleasked respondents a range of questions regarding their own experiences learningabout puberty. We supplement our analysis of the with data from 29 in-depthinterviews conducted in an informal area on the outskirts of Greater Cairo withyoung mothers aged 25-36 who had at least one daughter. Within the context of abroader study, the interviews covered mothers’ discussions – or intention todiscuss – puberty with their daughters. They were conducted in 2014 andtranscribed into Egyptian Colloquial Arabic.

Results

Results from the SYPE show thatnationally, two-thirds of young women reported knowing about menstruation priorto having their first period. In addition, just under half of all young women reportedthat they had ever spoken about the changes that occur during puberty withsomeone (Figure 1). Girls in the youngest age group (13-17) were slightly morelikely to have spoken with someone about puberty than those in older cohorts(p<0.05). Among those girls who spoke with someone about puberty, the largemajority (80.6%) spoke with their mother.

 

 

Figure 1: Percent of female youthwho spoke with someone about puberty, and person spoken with, by age group

Note: Answer choices were notmutually exclusive.

Most of the mothers in thequalitative study said that they should be the main – if not only – source ofinformation for their daughters as they were closer to them, and thereforeshould be the one to talk to them about puberty. The other main reasons werepreventative, including the belief that it is important so as not to be scaredwhen they got their period or to have better experiences than their mothersduring puberty. Mothers’ views contrasted with their own experiences as mostsaid that their own mothers did not tell them anything about puberty. As thiscohort was around the age of the oldest age group in the SYPE sample, theirviews suggest more of a shift in the likelihood of mother-daughtercommunication around puberty than may be apparent from the national data.

When female SYPE respondents were askedat what age they thought it is appropriate to discuss puberty with youth and (43.3%)mentioned ‘at menstruation/ puberty’ rather than a specific age. However, thequalitative data suggest that responses fail to capture nuances in when mothersthink it is appropriate to talk to their daughters about different aspects ofpuberty. For instance, mothers had different views about when it was mostappropriate to talk to their daughters about menstruation.

 

Others preferred discussing prior toits occurrence so that girls are more prepared and not scared when it occurs. Inaddition, while most respondents said that they talked to their daughters aboutavoiding boys, and how to avoid sexual harassment from an early age, in primaryor preparatory school, almost all women agreed that discussing sex should nothappen until their daughters are about to get married, either on the day of thewedding or a few days prior.

Our findings overall suggest thatwhile mothers want to and do play a primary role in communicating with girlsabout puberty, these discussions are constrained by lack of information andembarrassment, and might be delayed or avoided due to strong social norms aboutwhat and when is appropriate for girls to know regarding different aspects ofpuberty. At the same time, younger generations of mothers – at least in fairlyurbanized area – may be adopting more open attitudes to discussing puberty withtheir daughters.

 

 

 

 

Presented in Session 1227: Sexual and Reproductive Behaviour