Menstrual hygiene issues should be integrated into programmes and policies across sectors, including water, sanitation and hygiene, reproductive health, emergency management, and education, notes a new report. Currently, taboos surrounding menstruation leave many girls and women in low- and middle-income countries without access to sanitation facilities and excluded from school and opportunities.
The report, ‘Menstrual hygiene matters’, by Wateraid, illustrates good menstrual hygiene-related policies and interventions, and provides modules and toolkits on topics such as sanitary materials; working with communities; providing sanitary facilities in schools and emergency situations; and aiding girls and women in vulnerable, marginalized or special circumstances. It also advocates further research and monitoring on these issues.
“Unfortunately, the silence and stigma surrounding menstruation makes finding solutions for menstrual hygiene management a low priority,” says Catarina De Albuquerque, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, in the report’s foreword.
About 52 percent of the female population is of reproductive age. Yet in many cultures, menstruation means seclusion or even dietary restrictions. A lack of private hygiene facilities in schools fuels absenteeism among girls, and menstruation can be used to bar women from some jobs.
“Reports have suggested links between poor menstrual hygiene and urinary or reproductive tract infections and other illnesses,” adds the report, noting that “the impact of poor menstrual hygiene on the psychosocial well-being of women and girls (e.g., stress levels, fear and embarrassment, and social exclusion during menstruation) should also be considered”.
Men and boys have important roles in helping girls and women by, for example, providing funds for sanitary materials and challenging taboos and stigma. But they are often restricted by culture. “Our husbands don’t look at us... They only give us five days free from sex,” an interviewee from Nigeria says in the report.