Puberty is a period during which the human body changes from childhood to adulthood. The sexual organs and the body develop and/or change. The bodily changes observed during puberty are due to major hormonal changes. The endocrine glands, notably the ovaries and testes, produce sex hormones.
This transformation can make girls and boys question their identity. They may feel a growing need for independence. Friendships also take on greater importance. Adolescence marks the end of puberty. By this time, a young girl’s or boy’s body is able to reproduce.
Understanding the signs and changes associated with puberty is important in helping children to better manage this very critical period in their lives. Indeed, they may be exposed to challenges such as early pregnancy or getting involved with gangs.
Why is this topic important to listeners?
- Puberty is a crucial period in the life of adolescents. They are often tempted to experiment. They become increasingly curious and attracted to sex. Believing they can already manage their sexuality, both boys and girls may become parents for the first time at a very young age. They are exposed to sexually transmitted diseases and may find themselves involved in gangs, theft, rape and other kinds of sexual violence, and substance abuse. This topic is important for listeners as it will increase their ability to recognize and understand the signs of puberty. They can then receive the information that can help them enjoy puberty in a healthier and more responsible way.
- During this period, parents may find it difficult to bring up their children. The children do as they please and no longer want to follow parental advice. Parents are often stressed because they don’t know how to encourage adolescents to practice positive roles and responsibilities, how to cater for their needs, and how to reach agreements with them. A better understanding of the manifestations of puberty will enable parents to better understand their children during this period. They will be able to talk with them, listen to them, advise them, and guide them.
Some key data
- 65% of the Malian population is under the age of 25, and 32.7% are aged 10-24. And the majority of the population (73%) lives in rural areas.
- Puberty can begin as early as age 9 and continue until age 16. On average, however, girls start puberty at 11 and boys at 12.
- In 2018, 22% of 15-19-year-old girls with secondary education were mothers or pregnant for the first time, compared to 46% of those with no formal education.
- One out of five women (20%) aged between 25 and 49 was already married before the age of 15.
- 21% of women aged 25 to 49 had already had their first sexual intercourse before the age of 15, compared to only 5% of men in the same age bracket.
- In 2018, women had their first sexual intercourse on average four or five years before men. Women aged 25 to 49 had their first sexual intercourse at an average age of 16.5, while men aged 25 to 49 had their first sexual intercourse at an average age of 21. Thirteen times as many women as men had their first sexual intercourse before the age of 18. In Mali, 70% of women have their first sexual intercourse before the age of 18, compared to 17% of men.
- In Mali, 53% of women marry for the first time before the age of 18, much more often than men (0.4%).
Challenges related to puberty issues according to health experts in Mali
- No specific data on puberty
- There are few listening and support centres for young people, most of which have been set up by NGOs involved in the fight against gender-based violence, or by government.
- Family poverty
- Population growth
- Lack of information or inadequate information and communication about the bodily and sexual transformations at puberty
- Low school enrolment rates
- Lack of inclusion of sexual and reproductive health and rights in school curricula in Mali
Challenges related to puberty issues according to adolescents in Mali
- Youth poverty and unemployment
- School dropout
- Lack of or poor parent-child communication
- Insufficient youth counseling and listening centres
- Uncertainty and confusion about body and sexual changes
Physiological signs of puberty in girls
- The first visible sign of puberty is the development of breasts. This is followed by hair growth on the genitals and armpits, and a change in the appearance of the vulva. With its enlarged labia minora, the vulva becomes horizontal as the pelvis widens and tilts.
- One year after the onset of puberty, a white discharge appears. Then, two years after the start of breast development, menstruation begins.
- Finally, the pelvis widens and adipose tissue develops and changes in shape. The hips, buttocks, and stomach become rounder.
Physiological signs of puberty in boys
- On average at the age of 11 and a half, the testicles enlarge and the penis grows.
- The pubic hair that marks the end of puberty is on average completely grown by the age of 15.
- Armpit and facial hair appear, and the voice changes.
Definition of adolescence
- Adolescence is commonly defined as the period of human life between puberty and adulthood. The World Health Organization, or WHO, defines adolescence as the stage of life between the ages of 10 and 19. The WHO defines youth as the period between the ages of 15 and 24.
- As they enter adolescence, boys and girls question their identity and feel a growing need for independence. This can be a confusing time, with young people oscillating between their desire for autonomy and their dependence on their parents. Friendships take on greater importance.
Development in adolescence
- Intellectual and behavioral development: During puberty, young girls and boys tend to develop curiosity about a variety of things, including their own individuality and sexuality. They have a fairly advanced capacity for reflection. They seek to assert themselves and often show opposition to parental decisions. As a way of asserting their individuality, behaviours such as fast driving, sexual relations, or illegal activities may occur.
- Emotional development: During puberty, young girls and boys are often acutely aware of their appearance and often pay great attention to their clothing. During adolescence, psychological and brain development and maturation develop from the child to the adult stage of growth. Adolescents may be unable to control their emotions and express feelings of frustration, anxiety, or worry, a situation driven by hormonal changes, and to which parents must be attentive and patient. But, as they get older and their brains mature, adolescents are better able to control their emotional expressions.
- Psychological and social development: During this period, young girls and boys are on a quest for independence, and for a place in social groups of their peers.
- Sexuality and gender: During puberty, young boys and girls develop sexual attractions. They want to know more about sexuality and to engage in sexual practices.
The menstrual cycle
The menstrual cycle prepares a woman’s body for potential pregnancy. It lasts between 21 and 35 days depending on the woman. It begins at puberty and ends with the onset of menopause.
Diagram showing a 28-day cycle
Myths and misconceptions about puberty in Mali:
- During adolescence, young boys and girls are mature enough to face the realities of life: At puberty, young boys and girls think they’re mature and independent enough. But they are not always able to identify what is good or bad for them. Children and parents must try to understand each other’s point of view. This requires listening and regular dialogue.
- A girl should be ashamed of having her period: Menstruation is a natural and healthy process that shows that girls and women are able to conceive children. It is a normal part of life, and should not be stigmatized or considered as embarrassing.Girls are no longer virgins when they get their first period: Not true. Girls lose their virginity when they have sex, which can happen months or years after their first period.
- Girls should avoid eating certain foods when they’re menstruating: False, it is better to eat a balanced diet at all times. Foods such as fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, and grains are recommended. However, it is best to reduce salt and sugar intake to avoid bloating and water retention.
Strategies for avoiding the risks associated with poor menstrual hygiene in adolescence
- Don’t be afraid! It may be shocking to see blood for the first time, but it is normal and natural! If it happens at school, talk to a teacher, another schoolgirl, or an older schoolmate.
- If menstrual pads are not available, place a towel, piece of cloth, or thick cotton in the underwear.
- Wash the genitals with soap and water every day, morning and evening, if possible. However, not all soaps are suitable for washing the vulva. In fact, some soaps can destroy vaginal flora, thereby increasing the risk of infection.
- Use a towel or any other clean material.
Never use liquids such as bicarbonate solutions or lemon juice.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ):
To find out what topics are important to your audience, talk to them and community leaders. When preparing to answer audience questions about puberty, talk first to local public health specialists, especially about bodily changes and psychological aspects.
You can read frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the air for the benefit of your listeners, either during a call-in show or as part of a separate weekly program. When preparing these programs, don’t forget to take into account the specific aspects of your locality. We’ve identified 14 key puberty-related issues.
- What is puberty?
This is the transition period between childhood and adulthood. It is characterized by the development of sexual characteristics and accelerated growth. These lead to the sexual and reproductive maturity.
- What bodily changes can girls and boys expect?
Changes in girls
The first visible sign of puberty in a young girl is the development of breasts. This is followed by hair growth in the sexual area and underarms, and a change in the appearance of the vulva. The vulva, with its enlarged labia minora, becomes horizontal as the pelvis widens and tilts. One year after the onset of puberty, a white discharge appears. Two years after the start of breast development, menstruation begins.
Finally, the pelvis widens and fatty tissue develops and changes shape. The hips, buttocks, and stomach become rounder.
Changes in young boys
The testicles enlarge and the penis grows. Pubic hair appears. On average, the testicles start to grow at the age of 11 and a half. The pubic hair that marks the end of puberty is on average completely grown by age 15. This is followed by the appearance of armpit hair, facial hair, and a change in the voice. Boys start puberty on average around age 12, one year later than girls, and typically produce sperm about one year after the beginning of puberty.
- How long does puberty last?
Puberty can start as early as age 9 or as late as age 16, but on average, girls reach puberty at 11 and boys at 12.
- How should girls deal with their periods?
They can use reusable or single-use sanitary towels, and remember to change them regularly. They can also use panties that retain blood flow. They must observe and respect hygienic measures, and avoid inserting hands or other soiled objects into the vagina.
- Do people going through puberty have typical psychological symptoms?
Anxiety and worry over changes, the most important change being the occurrence of sexual desire.
- How can we prepare adolescents to deal with the changes associated with puberty?
We need to communicate more with adolescents about changes to their bodies, to prepare them to avoid fear, mismanagement of periods, substance abuse, unwanted pregnancies and so on.
- How can we help adolescents manage their difficulties during puberty?
Increasing the number of spaces for intergenerational dialogue, developing parent-child communication within families, and increasing the number of youth centres for guidance.
- What are the risks of mismanaging the menstrual cycle?
Poor management of the menstrual cycle can cause infections, which in the long run can lead to infertility.
- How can I avoid infections when I start menstruating for the first time during puberty?
Girls should use reusable sanitary towels and remember to change them regularly. It is also possible to use single-use sanitary towels or even panties that retain blood flow, but it is important to make sure they’re changed every four hours, and do not exceed 12 hours, to avoid the risk of infection. They must observe and respect hygienic measures, and avoid inserting their hand or any other soiled object into the vagina.
- At puberty, should girls avoid boys?
In Africa, during puberty, many parents advise their daughters to avoid being around boys, without explaining why. This arouses the curiosity of girls, who eventually contract unwanted pregnancies.
- What is precocious puberty?
This is when a child’s body begins to transform into that of an adult sooner than expected. Precocious puberty generally appears before the age of eight in girls and before the age of nine in boys.
- What are the risks associated with girls and boys marrying as soon as they reach puberty?
The biggest risk for girls is obstetric fistula, which can occur during childbirth. Because the body is not sufficiently mature, it cannot accommodate the proper development of the pregnancy. Another factor is the risk of dropping out of school. Married at an early age, boys quickly find themselves saddled with family responsibilities they may be unable to shoulder. This can lead to illegal immigration, dropping out of school, substance abuse, and even violence against their spouses.
- What is adolescence?
This is the period of human life between puberty and adulthood. The World Health Organization defines adolescence as the period from age 10 to 19, and youth as the period from age 15 to 24.
- What happens to young people when they reach adolescence? Are they treated differently?
Adolescents question their identity and feel a growing need for independence. It is often a period of confusion, with young people oscillating between their desire for autonomy and their desire to remain dependent on their parents. Friendships also take on greater importance. Many parents do not understand adolescents and don’t know how to help them get through this period sensitively and effectively. We need to develop parent-child communication, take the time to better understand their interests, and help them through this crucial period in their lives.
Endocrine glands: the mechanism by which hormone secretion activates other organs in the body.
Material: Sanitary towels.
Menopause: Natural decline in sex hormones in women reaching 40 or 50.
Ovary: The internal part of the female reproductive organs that produces eggs.
Ovulation: The manufacture of the ovum by the ovary.
Vagina: The internal passage leading from the opening of the vulva to the cervix of the uterus.
Contributed by: Dioro Cisse, journalist and broadcaster in Mali
Reviewed by: Salimata Traoré, program manager, department of promotion of women, children, and the family
Mariame Thiame, clinical midwife for the NGO AMPPF (Association Malienne pour la Protection et la Promotion de la Famille), interviewed on May 5, 2023.
Oumar Konaté, Public health section of the NGO ASDAP (Association de soutien au développement des acticités des populations), interviewed on June 5, 2023.
Learning document from the NGO ASDAP (Association de soutien au développement des acticités des populations)
Archive of the Direction Régionale de la Promotion de la Femme de l’Enfant et de la Famille in Ségou
Where can I find other resources on this topic?
- Doumbia, R., no date. Mali : les règles, oser en parler. https://www.womanager.org/mali-les-regles-oser-en-parler/
- Equilibres & Populations, 2017. Santé et droits sexuels et de la procréation des adolescent·e·s au Mali : Analyse des politiques et des programmes : opportunités et défis pour l’UNFPA. https://equipop.org/publications/Rapport%20-ados-Mali-UNFPA.pdf
- Government of the Republic of Mali and United Nations Population Fund, 2007. Plan d’actions du cadre de coopération (CPAP) 2008-2012 entre le gouvernement du Mali et le Fonds des Nations Unies pour la population (UNFPA), https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/portal-document/Mali_CPAP.pdf
- Institut National de la Statistique (INSTAT), Cellule de Planification et de Statistique Secteur Santé-Développement Social et Promotion de la Famille (CPS/SS-DS-PF) and ICF, 2019. Enquête Démographique et de Santé au Mali 2018 : Rapport de synthèse. https://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/SR261/SR261.pdf
- Manuel de formation des formateurs en santé de la reproduction dans le cadre du programme de santé de la reproduction dénommé DEBBO ALAFIA de l’ONG ASDAP, financed by the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Not available online.
- Training modules on menstrual hygiene from the Direction Régionale de la Promotion de la Femme de l’Enfant et de la Famille (DRPEFEF). Not available online.
- UNFPA, no date. Tableau de bord des adolescents et des-Mali. https://www.unfpa.org/fr/data/adolescent-youth/ML
This resource was produced through the “HÉRÈ – Women’s Well-Being in Mali” initiative, which aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health well-being of women and girls and to strengthen the prevention of and response to gender-based violence in Sikasso, Ségou, Mopti, and the district of Bamako in Mali. The project is implemented by the HÉRÈ – MSI Mali Consortium, in partnership with Farm Radio International (RRI) and Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) with funding from Global Affairs Canada.