We Need to Talk About Menstrual Hygiene

International Menstrual Hygiene Day emphasizes the need for comprehensive strategies to improve menstruation quality worldwide, including education, access to products, and sanitary facilities.

We Need to Talk About Menstrual Hygiene
Photo source: By Cottonbro Studio via Pexels, March 13th, 2020

04-06-2024

 Hannah Wohlbold

Women’s Rights Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence.

 

Last Thursday, on May 28th, was International Menstrual Hygiene Day. For the last 10 years, this day has annually highlighted the pressing need to address menstrual health and the importance of menstrual hygiene and to break taboos surrounding this topic. Millions of people around the world are affected by the lack of availability and limited access to menstrual products, which has far-reaching consequences for their health, education and participation in society. Menstrual hygiene is a fundamental human right that is inextricably linked to gender equality and human dignity. There is no doubt about it. Around 500 million people worldwide do not have access to adequate menstrual hygiene products and facilities (Sahiledengle et al., 2022). This situation is made worse by cultural taboos and a lack of education, which leads to stigmatisation and discrimination.

 

In South Asia, particularly in countries such as India and Nepal, girls are often forced to leave school during their menstruation due to a lack of suitable sanitary facilities or stigma around periods (McCammon et al., 2020; Sharma et al., 2022). This lack of education has a long-term impact on their future opportunities and contributes to gender inequality. In Kenya, for example, 65 percent of women and girls reported that they cannot afford menstrual products, forcing them to resort to unhealthy alternatives (Mohamed, 2021). This poses serious long-term health risks, including infections and long-term health complications (World Bank, 2022). In addition, a recent survey (Thinx & PERIOD, 2023) found that over 42 percent of adolescents in the US felt “unprepared when they got their first period” (p. 3) and only about 52 percent reported they felt supported by their school to access period products. Even in Europe, menstrual hygiene is an issue that is often overlooked. While access to menstrual products may be better than in other countries, there is still considerable stigma. A German study found that only about 50 percent of women feel taken seriously when consulting a doctor about their period pain (Tschacher et al., 2022). Nearly one in four women don’t feel comfortable calling in sick at work or in school due to fearing a lack of understanding (Tschacher et al., 2022). And despite the prosperity in European countries, low-income households and people without a home, for example, often have no (financial) access to menstrual products (Herder et al., 2022). In various countries, campaigns and policies have begun to address the issue, but the stigmatisation and silence around menstruation persists (Camut, 2023; Olson et al., 2022; UNICEF & WHO, 2024).

 

Another key problem is that in most cases the topic of menstruation is only associated with women, which means that all other people who menstruate are often neglected in the discussion. This contributes to the further stigmatisation of people beyond the gender binary (Rydström, 2020). It is crucial to improve the quality of life of menstruating people worldwide. A comprehensive strategy is needed that includes education, access to menstrual products and the construction of sanitary facilities. Governments, non-governmental organisations and civil society must work together to set and achieve these goals and recognise and promote menstrual hygiene as a human right. Menstrual Hygiene Day reminds us that we still have a long way to go to improve the situation. Every step towards better menstrual hygiene is a step towards a fairer and more equal world.

 

 

Sources and Further Readings::

Camut, N. (2023, February 16). Spain approves paid menstrual leave, first country in Europe to do so. POLITICO. Accessed 4 June 2024. https://www.politico.eu/article/bill-europe-spain-parliament-creates-first-menstrual-leave-in-europe/

Herder, S., Horst, L. ter, & Zijderveld, A. (2022, September 13). ‘The red flag has been raised’ but 1 in 10 cannot afford menstrual products. Shaping Europe. Accessed 4 June 2024. https://shapingeurope.eu/the-red-flag-has-been-raised-but-1-in-10-cannot-afford-menstrual-products/

Maguire, P., Keating, T., Semancik, K., & Moore, V. (2018). Policy Brief: Women and Menstruation in the EU – Eurohealth [Policy Brief]. European Institute of Women’s Health. Accessed 4 June 2024. https://eurohealth.ie/policy-brief-women-and-menstruation-in-the-eu-2/

McCammon, E., Bansal, S., Hebert, L. E., Yan, S., Menendez, A., & Gilliam, M. (2020). Exploring young women’s menstruation-related challenges in Uttar Pradesh, India, using the socio-ecological framework. Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, 28(1), 1749342. Accessed 4 June 2024. https://doi.org/10.1080/26410397.2020.1749342

Mohamed, A. (2021, Juli 20). Activists Combat Period Poverty in Kenya. The Borgen Project. Accessed 4 June 2024. https://borgenproject.org/period-poverty-in-kenya/

Olson, M. M., Alhelou, N., Kavattur, P. S., Rountree, L., & Winkler, I. T. (2022). The persistent power of stigma: A critical review of policy initiatives to break the menstrual silence and advance menstrual literacy. PLOS Global Public Health, 2(7), e0000070. Accessed 4 June 2024. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgph.0000070

Rydström, K. (2020). Degendering Menstruation: Making Trans Menstruators Matter. In C. Bobel, I. T. Winkler, B. Fahs, K. A. Hasson, E. A. Kissling, & T.-A. Roberts (Hrsg.), The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies (S. 945–959). Springer Singapore. Accessed 4 June 2024. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-0614-7_68

Sahiledengle, B., Atlaw, D., Kumie, A., Tekalegn, Y., Woldeyohannes, D., & Agho, K. E. (2022). Menstrual hygiene practice among adolescent girls in Ethiopia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLOS ONE, 17(1), e0262295. Accessed 4 June 2024. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0262295

Sharma, A., McCall-Hosenfeld, J. S., & Cuffee, Y. (2022). Systematic review of menstrual health and hygiene in Nepal employing a social ecological model. Reproductive Health, 19(1), 154. Accessed 4 June 2024. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12978-022-01456-0

Thinx & PERIOD. (2023). State of the Period 2023. Thinx, Inc. and PERIOD. Accessed 4 June 2024. https://period.org/uploads/2023-State-of-the-Period-Study.pdf

Tschacher, A., Ulferts, C., Hofmann, K., Ferry, A., Schröder, A., & Balasko, S. (2022). Focus Topic: Menstruation. Experience of Girls and Women in Germany and throughout the World [Survey]. Plan International Deutschland e.V.

UNICEF & WHO. (2024). Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in schools 2015–2023: Special focus on menstrual health (Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), S. 100). United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO). Accessed 4 June 2024. https://data.unicef.org/resources/jmp-wash-in-schools-2024/?_gl=1*p0r685*_ga*MzQ2NjM4ODAuMTcxNTA5NTkwMQ..*_ga_ZEPV2PX419*MTcxNzUxMDc4NC4yLjEuMTcxNzUxMjc3NC41MS4wLjA.

World Bank. (2022, Mai 12). Menstrual Health and Hygiene [Text/HTML]. World Bank. Accessed 4 June 2024. https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/water/brief/menstrual-health-and-hygiene