WHO/Europe have been working together with Member States to develop policies to tackle the taboo topic of menstrual hygiene and develop better educational support systems.
Globally, 52% of women and girls are of reproductive age. Yet, a massive stigma still shrouds the topic of menstruation, and the taboo topic often makes it difficult for girls and women in many countries and regions to obtain sanitary products and to practice optimal menstrual hygiene.
Held in Bonn on 23–24 October 2018 under the framework of the Protocol on Water and Health, health and education sectors came together to discuss joint action to tackle the taboo topic.
Inequality in relation to menstrual hygiene management has many causes, such as lack of information about menstruation, unsatisfactory sanitation infrastructure, supplies often being unavailable or unaffordable, and unfortunately in many places around the world, the fact that menstruation is a taboo topic.
It has been highlighted that menstrual hygiene concerns the dignity and well-being of all women and girls, particularly school-aged girls who often miss classes due to inadequate menstrual hygiene management, which underpins rights to sanitation and gender equality in education.
At the meeting, Member States explored good practice on how to measure the scope of the problem, identify the needs of those affected, improve facilities in schools and strengthen school education regarding menstruation hygiene.
Understanding menstrual poverty won’t cramp your style
Recent studies regarding menstrual poverty in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia revealed 90% of female students in rural areas have not been attending school for 4–5 days while they are on their period.
In urban areas, this drops to 75% who skip school for 2–3 days while on their period.
Inadequate conditions for managing menstrual hygiene at school and the high price of products for menstrual hygiene management were the common reasons for such absences.
However, the Scottish Government provides access to free menstrual products to students in schools, colleges and universities to support equality, dignity and rights for those who menstruate.
Such an initiative aims to ensure that lack of access to products does not impact on anyone’s ability to fully participate in education at all levels.
Riding the crimson wave rather than drowning in it
In Kyrgyzstan, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) supported the Ministry of Education in developing educational materials regarding menstrual hygiene management. These materials were distributed to all schools in the country and specific education materials were reproduced in alternative formats for children with visual and hearing disabilities to provide them access to critical information on girls’ hygiene, child rights and safety.
Moreover, publications on menstrual hygiene management in Kyrgyz and Russian languages were reproduced in Braille and audio formats for children and parents. A child-friendly version of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as school safety publications, were reproduced in video format with subtitles and sign language interpretation and as interactive books with audio description.
Such initiatives and actions are a great step forward in tackling the taboo topic of menstruation, however, as of yet, the topic of openly discussing menstruation hygiene has only just begun. Organizations should continue to work cohesively with governments to develop sustainable sanitation products and effective educational plans to provide girls and women around the world with critical information regarding menstruation and overcome the barriers of the taboo topic.