Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019 - It's Time for Action

By Sarah Goddard and Lena Pritzkat

May 28 is Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day), which aims to break persisting taboos around menstruation, raise awareness about the importance of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) for women and adolescent girls, and engage decision-makers in raising the political priority of MHM. Globally more than half of women are of reproductive age, yet many lack access to hygiene products and adequate sanitation facilities. As defined by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, MHM means that women and adolescent girls are using a clean material to collect blood, they have privacy to change their materials, they have soap and water for washing the body, and they have access to safe and convenient facilities for disposing of menstrual waste.

In Kenya, 65% of women use homemade hygiene products and 60% lack access to adequate sanitation facilities outside the home. 32.5% of girls report no knowledge of menstruation before their first period. Lack of menstrual hygiene education, stigma, limited access to products, and poor sanitation infrastructure undermine opportunities for girls and women worldwide.

The theme of MH Day this year—It’s Time for Action—not only emphasizes the importance of MHM but also urges everyone to take action and empower women to reach their full potential. This is critically important for the achievement of global development agendas.

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W4H beneficiaries with Be Girl reusable period panties (Global Communities photo)

Global Communities reaches vulnerable populations through community-driven development. Many programs focus on adolescent girls and young women, who are disproportionately impacted by many development challenges, including inadequate water, sanitation, hygiene, and access to education. MHM has been integrated into multiple programs, including Kenya DREAMS, Rwanda Twiyubake, and Ghana WASH for Health (W4H) by including menstrual hygiene education and increasing access to hygiene products. We expect MHM to be an increasingly important component of WASH programming as we prioritize inclusive and gender-sensitive development.  

Our W4H program aims to accelerate sustainable improvement in water and sanitation access and improve hygiene behaviors. While this project is WASH-focused, it integrates MHM through different approaches. W4H ensures that a minimum 60% of women participate in Water Sanitation Management Teams to enable women to engage in decision-making concerning WASH facilities and services in their communities. These decisions will focus on meeting their need for safe, accessible, and private facilities that are well maintained and affordable. Additionally, through W4H, Global Communities engaged with partner Be Girl, a social enterprise that creates innovative, beautiful, and affordable reusable hygiene products, to conduct a pilot study on the impact of menstrual hygiene education, a menstrual cycle tracking device (the SmartCycle®), and reusable period panties on engagement in school. There are plans to reach 2,500 girls in the next fiscal year with Be Girl products, especially in rural areas, and approximately 1,000 boys will also be given education on menstruation. This is important because it helps boys feel more comfortable around girls who are menstruating and decreases stigma and shame.

Comparing the baseline data and the endline data of the Be Girl pilot in Ghana, there were significant changes: during the baseline, 544 girls found it difficult to attend school, yet after they were supplied with MHM products and education, only 98 girls found it difficult to attend school. Additionally, their confidence levels grew: during the baseline survey, only 155 girls felt confident and comfortable, but at the end of the pilot, 895 girls felt confident. Similarly, MHM education affected how boys felt around girls while they were menstruating—they became more comfortable. These changes demonstrate that it is important to continue to assess the impact that improved sanitation and hygiene can have on MHM and girls’ participation in school. The pilot highlights that 1) Improved MHM education improves both school attendance and concentration; 2) MHM education is important to reduce harmful social norms and stigma around menstruation; and 3) MHM materials should be made available in schools in order to increase girls’ capacity to manage menstruation safely and with dignity.

While MHM is not explicitly mentioned in any of the SDGs, it is linked to many development goals and outcomes. Good MHM requires education, toilets, water and soap, hygiene products, and disposal, and systemic factors like health education and services, social norms, and policies. This is linked to SDG 3 (health), SDG 4 (education), SDG 5 (gender equality), SDG 6 (WASH), SDG 8 (inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work), and SDG 12 (sustainable consumption and production). MHM is also linked, therefore, to SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), and SDG 11 (sustainable cities). Good MHM can help us achieve many of the SDGs and is a critical part of inclusive sustainable development.

This year’s MH Day theme encourages us all to be better advocates for the women and girls we serve through our development programs. By raising awareness of MHM, not only can we contribute to the breaking down of harmful norms and taboos, we can create stronger, gender-sensitive and inclusive programs that empower women and girls to realize their full potential.

#MHDay2019 #NoMoreLimits #ItsTimeForAction #MHM #MenstrualHygieneManagement