Menstrual Hygiene and the SDGs

World leaders gather in New York this week to commit to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Our very own Public Affairs Officers shared their thoughts on the role of hygiene and -more specifically- menstrual hygiene- to achieving the new global goals.

Roel Blesgraaf - Public Affairs Officer WASH

What is your opinion about the final SDGs?

“The current set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a comprehensive set of goals to end poverty and to promote environmental wellbeing. Compared with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the agenda is much broader. For example, improving water quality and supporting and strengthening the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management are also part of the SDG agenda. However, this broadening of the agenda also holds a risk: countries and donors can pick their own priorities. The current accountability mechanism is still weak as countries can review their own work.

My major concern is the current absence of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities outside households, e.g. in schools and health centres. Simavi wants to structurally improve the basic health of 10 million people by 2020, and WASH facilities in health centres and schools are just as important as WASH facilities at household level to achieve this. If you don’t have clean water in your local hospital, you’re just as likely to become ill as get better.”

Simavi signed the petition for a global-level hygiene indicator in the SDGs. Why is this so important?

“Hygiene plays a crucial role in linking several SDGs. Without clean drinking water you cannot wash your hands, and if you don’t wash your hands after going to a latrine or defecating in the open, bacteria will spread easily and cause diseases like diarrhoea. Illness prevents people from working and earning income for their families.

Hygiene is also vital for the sustainable impact of our programmes. If we only focus on water and sanitation, the long-term health impact is very limited. That’s why I hope a global indicator for hygiene will be added to the monitoring framework in the months ahead.”

Nienke Blauw - Public Affairs Officer SRHR

Do you have any concerns about the final SDGs?

“The scope of the SDGs goes far beyond the MDGs: it is meant to be transformative and really change the whole world. This is all really exciting, and fits well with Simavi’s community-based, rights-based sustainable approach. However, despite the fact that the indivisibility of the agenda is mentioned in the Preamble, its breadth and ambition may nevertheless lead to countries picking and choosing their priorities. This may result in implementation of the SRHR-related SDGs –which some countries have already expressed reservations to- really lagging behind and ending up just as off track as the MDGs they replaced.

I am also concerned that some issues that are essential to fulfilling SRHR for all, such as comprehensive sexuality education, menstrual hygiene management, access to safe abortion (where legal) and sexual rights remain either implicit or excluded altogether. It is of the utmost importance that the Netherlands and like-minded countries continue to underscore the importance of these issues in achieving universal SRHR and encourage others to invest in these areas as well.”

How is hygiene, and more specifically menstrual hygiene, covered in the SDGs?

“Hygiene is mentioned under SDG 6 (Availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all) in target 6.2. Menstrual Hygiene is – as said before – not explicitly mentioned, but both target 6.2 (access to sanitation and hygiene for all with special attention to the needs of women and girls) and target 4a (building and upgrading education facilities that are gender sensitive), provide clear opportunities to make Menstrual Hygiene part of the agenda. Within other targets, including the SRHR related ones SDG 3 and SDG 5, a the link to Menstrual Hygiene is even more implicit – but nevertheless there. Improved Menstrual Hygiene will, for example, result in less girls dropping out of school, which in turn will contribute to a reduction in early and forced marriage (target 5.3).”

“Girls drop out of school if they can’t use separate toilets during menstruation.”

“Menstrual hygiene is essential to achieving many of the Goals in the Post-2015 agenda: without proper attention to this issue, women and girls cannot fully participate in society.”

Roel Blesgraaf - Public Affairs Officer WASH and Nienke Blauw - Public Affairs Officer SRHR
about Importance of menstrual Hygiene

Roel Blesgraaf - Public Affairs Officer WASH

Why should menstrual hygiene be included in the SDGs?

“For several reasons: firstly, girls drop out of school if they can’t use separate toilets during menstruation; secondly, if women can’t manage their periods hygienically, this may cause discomfort and even infection; finally it’s a matter of dignity. Menstruation remains a topic that many people see as a taboo subject and don’t talk about. This attitude seriously restricts the participation of women in society in many places of the world.”

What is Simavi doing to change this?

“On an international scale, we include menstrual hygiene management in our advocacy efforts for WASH and SRHR on local, national and global level and we supported the Call to Action on Menstrual Hygiene from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), launched at the Volvo Ocean race Event.

To give you a few examples of our work in individual countries: together with Rutgers WPF and Women on Wings, Simavi designed a programme to improve the health and dignity of 600,000 Indian women and girls. In Bangladesh, we raise awareness of the importance of menstrual hygiene directed towards national policy makers and we will soon start a new initiative to set up a menstrual hygiene hub to increase knowledge exchange, enhance a national dialogue about the topic and to create an enabling environment for menstrual hygiene management.

With all these efforts, Simavi and our partners improve the health and participation of many women in the countries where we work. A full list of the SDGs and underlying targets can be found here.”


Nienke Blauw - Public Affairs Officer SRHR

Why should menstrual hygiene be included in the SDGs?

“Because it is essential to achieving many of the Goals in the Post-2015 agenda: without proper attention to this issue, women and girls cannot fully participate in society. Because of taboos, stigma and a lack of facilities and knowledge women and girls miss days of  school or work per month, or are taken out of school to be married off. In some cases they leave school or work altogether. This in turn reinforces gender inequality, leaves women and girls vulnerable to early and forced marriage, early and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and maternal morbidity and mortality.

To change this situation, a combination of facilities and information is needed to manage menstruation hygienically – i.e. information on hygienic behaviour, private toilets for women, sanitary napkins and other menstrual products.  In addition  girls and boys, men and women need information regarding what menstruation is and how it relates to sexuality and reproduction. It is essential the whole community has access to this information through comprehensive sexuality education. Last but not least, cultural taboos need to be lifted, myths need to be broken and all menstruation-related restrictions to the full participation of women and girls in society – including school and the work force – need to be removed.”

What is Simavi doing to change this?

“As my colleague Roel said, Simavi includes Menstrual Hygiene in both its WASH and SRHR advocacy efforts at the local, national and international level. In addition to the recent and upcoming activities Roel mentioned, Simavi will work on increasing awareness and action-readiness on Menstrual Hygiene during the upcoming EURONGOs Conference in Oslo. European SRHR advocates will gather here to discuss how implementation of the SRHR related SDGs can be best supported through advocacy and how issues that have received too little attention in the Post-2015 agenda can be brought to the attention of every relevant stakeholder. Simavi will organise a side-event during the conference to highlight the importance of paying attention to Menstrual Hygiene in the implementation of the Post-2015 agenda and will spread the Call to Action. In this way, and through actively follow-up after the EURONGOs Conference we hope to make Menstrual Hygiene an integral part of the SDG related SRHR Advocacy efforts at local, national and international level.”


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