Long Read

Menstrual Health: ensuring women’s and girls’ well-being during their period

What is Menstrual Health?

Around 500 million women and girls lack access to gender-sensitive facilities and the menstrual products of their choice to manage their periods. Although menstruation is a normal and natural element of the female reproductive system, it is a taboo topic that is not talked about openly, remaining hidden from others. As a result, many women and girls lack the knowledge of how to maintain their menstrual health.

Furthermore, social and cultural norms, in combination with limited access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities and appropriate menstrual products, restrict their participation in school, work and community activities during menstruation. Our comprehensive programmes aim to address these barriers to menstrual health. Simavi aims to improve women’s and girls’ experiences of menstrual health whilst addressing a broader set of barriers that tackle issues around gender (in)equality and sexual reproductive health.

Menstrual Health: a matter of Human Rights

Menstrual health enables women to exercise human right equality. It is key to the fulfilment of women’s rights and is at the same time connected to the rights to health, education, gender, dignity, water, and sanitation of any person who menstruates. None of the international human rights instruments explicitly refer to menstruation. In 2014, the UN Human Rights Council did acknowledge for the first time that the lack of menstrual hygiene management and the stigma associated with menstruation, have a negative impact on gender equality.

Menstrual health is a foundational issue to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)

Menstruation is not just an entry point to talk about SRHR, it is a foundational issue to SRHR that should be mainstreamed in SRHR programmes. Women’s and girls’ knowledge, and experience of menstruation influences their understanding and decision making over their bodies. Menstrual health contributes to healthy pregnancies, sexual awareness and influences sexual enjoyment. At the same time, (hormonal) contraceptive use influences menstrual cycles and using the menstrual cycle as a form of contraceptive increases the risks of STIs and HIV infections.

WASH and menstrual and hygiene products

The WASH sector has been instrumental in putting menstruation on the national agenda. Menstrual hygiene management has been included in many WASH programmes helping to ensure women and girls have access to facilities that respond to their needs. In addition this has spawned the development of new, innovative, menstrual products including re-usable pads, menstrual cups and menstrual cycle trackers.

menstrual health, period reusable pads

Although these all address important barriers, menstrual health requires a multi-component approach: combining access to WASH facilities, a choice of products with comprehensive SRHR interventions that are targeted both at people who menstruate and the people in their environment.

Sustainable change in Menstrual Health of women and girls

Simavi is determined to improve the menstrual health of women and girls, ensuring they can experience their periods with dignity and fulfil their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

In our programming we take an integrated approach in line with our Theory of Change, where we facilitate access to education and information, dialogues between women and girls within their communities, make sure they can use gender-sensitive WASH services and menstrual products that respond to their needs.

We strive to build our menstrual health programmes on existing evidence and where possible contribute to the gaps in existing evidence. At the same time, we lobby and advocate for the prioritisation of menstrual health in policies and programmes, as well as in international frameworks. And work together with other organisations working on menstrual health, including the Global Menstrual Health and Hygiene Collective, that we are a founding member of.

A definition of Menstrual Health and Hygiene

With our work, Simavi contributes to menstrual health and hygiene, as defined by UNICEF as encompassing “both menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and the broader systemic factors that link menstruation with health, well-being, gender equality, education, equity, empowerment, and rights.

These systematic factors have been summarised by UNESCO as accurate and timely knowledge, available, safe, and affordable materials, informed and comfortable professionals, referral and access to health services, sanitation and washing facilities, positive social norms, safe and hygienic disposal, and advocacy and policy.”

Read more about our work on Menstrual Health:

  • Making Periods Normal – with Rutgers, Women on Wings, in India
  • Ritu – with RedOrange and TNO, in Bangladesh – an evidence informed and impact oriented programme
  • The Perfect Fit – with Kopernik, in Indonesia – a collaboration with a Indonesian private partner

Other relevant materials on Menstrual Health:

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Do you want to know more about Menstrual Health?

Please contact our colleague Hilda Alberda.

+31 (0)88 313 15 74