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Blog: Promoting menstrual health at the HLPF in New York

By Hilda Alberda, Director of Planning, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning
Amsterdam, 08 August

Last month, I was in New York to represent Simavi at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) at the United Nationals (UN) Headquarters. The HLPF is an annual meeting at the UN Headquarters in New York where Ministers, delegates, UN representatives, (i)NGOs, researchers and other stakeholders come together to review the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was my first time attending a high level event like this at the UN HQ. Together with my colleagues I flew to New York with the task to promote menstrual health at the HLPF.

Each year, at HLPF, a selection of SDGs are under review. This year in July,  SDG 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 and 17  were being reviewed. Although menstrual health has recently gained the attention of researchers, policy makers, implementers and advocates, there is no specific goal or indicator on menstrual health within the SDG framework. As SDG 6 focuses on ‘ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’ this one of multiple SDGs that is relevant to ensure menstrual health of women and girls. Since menstrual health is an important topic for Simavi within the nexus of SRHR and WASH, we came up with the idea to organise a side-event at the HLPF to put the topic on the agenda. At that time I was already working with WASH United, World Vision and GiZ on a series of MH webinars and we decided that the fifth webinar on advocacy would be live broadcasted from New York. We were very excited when WSSCC committed to co-organise the event and we jointly prepared for our session at the HLPF.

During the HLPF there are the official meetings at the UN where Ministers and delegates come together to review the different SDGs. With our ECOSOC status, we were able to request ground passes to access the UN building and attend these meetings. As there was only one day-pass per organisation to attend the official meetings, I was lucky to be able to attend the opening session and parts of the SDG6 review in the official room. In addition to the official events, there are several side-events organised by NGOs and other organisations in and around the UN building. I attended several side-events on topics related to women/ gender and WASH where a reference was made to menstrual health.

Our own side-event took place on Wednesday morning just opposite of the UN building, which gave people without a UN ground pass the opportunity to join. We were very pleased to see a great turn-up at our venue in New York and online (about 120 people in total). I moderated the event and Dr. Inga Winkler (Columbia University) gave a key-note address in which she made a case for a cross-sectoral approach on menstrual health, going beyond WASH and linking with sexual reproductive health, gender, education and other sectors. She also underlined the need for more evidence on the issue and the solutions and to go beyond products in programmes. Irene Gai (Kenya Water For Health) elaborated on her policy and programme work on menstrual health in Kenya and Mahbuba Kumkum presented her work with the MH Platform in Bangladesh. After that we had an interactive discussion with the panellists, the people in the audience and the online listeners. For those interested, you can listen to the recording of the side-event here.

Back in the Netherlands, we were happy to learn that menstrual hygiene management was included in the Ministerial Declaration, the final outcome of the High Level Political! Although not menstrual health (the term menstrual health is defined by PATH as both menstrual hygiene management practices and the broader interventions that link menstruation to health, well-being, gender, education, equity, empowerment and rights) this is a great step in the right direction. You can read the final declaration here.

There was also attention for our side-event in the media. It was mentioned in an article on DEVEX.com, which you can read here  and in the Menstrual Memo of the Menstrual Health Hub.


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