Why does Menstrual Hygiene Matter?
Effective menstrual hygiene is vital to the health, well-being, dignity, empowerment, mobility and productivity of women and girls. Poor menstrual hygiene may cause stigma and ill health, and can lead to school absenteeism and increased school drop-out rates. Menstruation is a taboo subject across the world, which can lead to misinformation and the promotion of dangerous menstrual hygiene practices.
The issue of menstrual hygiene has been neglected and there is reluctance even within the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector to talk openly about this important subject. However, menstrual hygiene is gaining growing attention as a crucial aspect to achieving improved child health, education retention and gender equality.
To manage menstruation hygienically and with dignity, it is essential that women and girls have access to water and sanitation. They need somewhere private to change sanitary cloths or pads; clean water and soap for washing their hands, bodies and reusable cloths; and facilities for safely disposing of used materials or a clean place to dry them if reusable. There is also a need for both men and women to have a greater awareness of good menstrual hygiene practices. Menstruation is a natural process, but in most parts of the world it is taboo and rarely talked about. It has also been largely neglected by the WASH sector and other sectors focusing on sexual and reproductive health, and education. As a result, the practical challenges of menstrual hygiene are made even more difficult by socio-cultural factors and millions of women and girls continue to be denied their rights to WASH, health, education, dignity and gender equity. Menstruation is a natural process; however, if not properly managed it can result in health problems. The impact of poor menstrual hygiene on the psycho-social wellbeing of women and girls (eg. stress levels, fear and embarrassment, and social exclusion during menstruation) should also be considered.
For more information listen to this podcast on SOAS radio as Dr Belen Torondel and Aurelie Jeandron, both of LSHTM, discuss how SHARE is raising awareness about this neglected topic
Key research and contributions to this area:
In conjunction with WaterAid SHARE funded a comprehensive manual for improving menstrual hygiene for women and girls in middle and lower income countries. The full manual and all of the modules are available through WaterAid’s website.
SHARE collaborated with WaterAid Malawi to organise a high-level workshop which aimed to attention to menstrual hygiene management. The meeting brought together high level representatives from government ministries, civil society, education and research bodies to discuss the menstrual hygiene needs of women and girls. This workshop followed an exploratory study into the menstrual hygiene needs of girls attending school in Malawi. The full findings of this report are available here.
Our current work in this area:
SHARE recently worked with the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP) to facilitate a two-day workshop on the issues women and girls face in relation to WASH. The workshop had two main aims: to share on-going SHARE-WSSCC-funded research focused on how women and girls are differentially affected by poor water and sanitation, and to encourage discussion on how women as agents of change can support progress in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Read more about this event on the SHARE website.
Full list of publications related to Menstrual Hygiene:
- Sumpter, C. and B. Torondel (2013). A Systematic Review of the Health and Social Effects of Menstrual Hygiene Management. PLoS ONE 8(4): 2004.
- Das P, Baker KK, Dutta A, et al. Menstrual Hygiene Practices, WASH Access and the Risk of Urogenital Infection in Women from Odisha, India. PLoS ONE. 06/30
Other useful resources we have contributed to:
Health and UNICEF convened the third annual Menstrual
in Schools Virtual Conference in New York City on 29 October 2014. Building on recommendations from the 2013
conference, the aim was to focus on programmes that have gone to scale. However, as the conference submissions demonstrated, to date there has been limited scale up of MHM programming in schools. This is due in part to the need for additional evidence on the effectiveness of various MHM interventions to convince national governments and donors to support scale up. The conference therefore focused on a range of new research and programming efforts that are being undertaken in a wide range of low- and middle income countries, with particular attention on approaches addressing insufficient menstrual knowledge and inadequate WASH facilities, including for the disposal of used absorbent materials.
The one-day event brought together over 300 participants from academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector, advocacy organizations, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) and UNICEF. This document provides a summary of the meetings proceedings.
This edition of Frontiers of CLTS illustrates how CLTS programmes can be expanded to address menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in schools and communities to alleviate these stresses on women and girls.
Its specific objectives are to:
- Increase the awareness of policy-makers and practitioners on MHM.
- Engender change by highlighting the synergies between MHM and CLTS programmes.
- Share examples of how MHM interventions have been incorporated into CLTS and School-Led Total Sanitation (SLTS) programmes, drawing on the innovations and experiences of several organisations.
- Summarise what can be done to improve MHM through CLTS programmes.