Menstruation matters: Menstrual Hygiene Day to raise awareness, reduce stigma

What’s a common factor in advancing education, ensuring health, strengthening the economy, protecting the environment and realizing human rights?

Menstruation. Well, menstrual hygiene.

PWW Honduras low-res web J Barker-5196May 28 is the first global Menstrual Hygiene Day, a day in which more than 90 international and local organizations will come together to break the silence around menstruation and raise awareness about the fundamental role that menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential.

It’s something that just about 50 percent of the global population experiences, yet it often remains a taboo subject. In Iran, almost half of girls think that menstruation is a disease, and a third of schoolgirls in South Asia had not heard of menstruation prior to their first period. In some places, menstruating women and girls face restrictions such as not being allowed to prepare food, wash their bodies or enter places of worship.

In addition to social stigma and taboos related to menstruation, women and girls’ capacity to manage their periods is impacted by a number of other factors, including limited access to affordable and hygienic sanitary materials and disposal options. This leaves many women and girls to manage their periods in ineffective, uncomfortable and unhygienic ways.

Without access to hygiene products and safe toilet facilities, girls miss school and women miss work, resulting in missed life opportunities and lost income. Startlingly, in Bangladesh, one study found that 73 percent of garment workers missed work for an average of six days per month – not because of menstruation, but due to vaginal infections caused by using discarded fabric from the factory floor as pads.

Pure Water for the World believes that MHM is essential to ensuring an effective water, sanitation and hygiene package in our partner communities. We are preparing to launch a MHM component in our community-based sanitation education programming in Honduras. Currently, we are creating surveys to better understand how women, girls and men view menstruation, what resources women and girls need and how they can better understand menstruation. With this information, we will develop and pilot menstruation-focused education campaigns to not only improve the effectiveness of WASH interventions, but also to help empower women and girls.

Menstrual Hygiene Day will be recognized with a number of global events and campaigns, including MHM-focused book and film releases, social media campaigns, art exhibitions and community forums and discussions.

Initiated by the Berlin-based international social impact organization WASH United, the Menstrual Hygiene Day campaign envisions a world in which every woman and girl can manage her menstruation in a hygienic way – wherever she is – in privacy, safely and with dignity. Period.