New York, 27 January 2023 (TDI): United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said that about 800 million people between the ages of 15 – 49 are menstruating. For many, this biological process brings inconvenience.
Menstruation is considered taboo in many countries and tainted with some myths, stigmas, shame, and discrimination. They are considered unclean. Therefore, during these days women and girls remain excluded from activities.
Such as, they are banished to menstruation huts, and barred from sharing meals. In many countries, the start of menstrual blood is perceived as a sign that a girl is ready for marriage, motherhood, and sexual activity.
This led to violence and abuse such as child marriage. Some girls do not understand their bodies and natural processes. Because in many cultures women are not given enough freedom to understand their bodies.
UNFPA talked to a woman in Botswana, Ogaufi Moisakamo, she said menstruation is still considered a secret. “When I got my first period, I was also ashamed of informing my mother.
And when I finally told her, she only warned me against playing with boys as it would ‘get me pregnant’.”
Menstruation was regarded as so taboo it went almost entirely unmentioned in the world of diplomacy and development. Even in the last 30 years, international development and humanitarian experts began to focus on various issues.
These include issues such as water, sanitation, and hygiene as essential for human rights and dignity. The menstruation remained absent from the conversation even.
Lack of Basic Facilities
These days many girls miss school because they do not have access to sanitary supplies. Moreover, some girls experience pain or their schools lack adequate sanitary facilities.
About 26 million women and girls are displaced because of conflict crises and climate issues. This created various issues related to their dignity. In this situation, it is difficult to manage periods.
Some countries addressed period poverty. Period poverty is related to the issue of sanitation, hygiene, and the availability and affordability of menstrual products. Menstruation should not mean the end of rights to health, dignity, and gender equality.
UNFPA has taken initiatives to support menstrual health and hygiene. UNFPA reaches people who menstruate. It provided facilities — education, safe sanitation, and dignity kits containing essentials like soap, menstrual supplies, and underwear.
For example, UNFPA has distributed thousands of kits in humanitarian settings as a result of the conflict in Ukraine and Moldova, northern Ethiopia, and natural disasters in Haiti, the Philippines, Tonga, Malawi, and Mozambique.
World Menstrual Day
UN observed menstrual day on 28th May, because it covers a cycle of 28 days in length. People menstruate for five days on average each month. May is the fifth month of the year.
This meant to advance menstruation as a biological process so that people can menstruate. Without being cast out or missing out, without feeling fear or shame, and without being treated like less or exposed to more vulnerabilities.
It also raises awareness of period poverty, or the inability to afford the menstrual supplies needed to manage health and hygiene with dignity.
In 2014, on 28 May, the international community marked the first-ever Menstrual Hygiene Day. UNFPA highlighted the progress that has been made.
For example, the taboos shattered, awareness raising, and efforts committed to meeting the needs and securing the health, dignity, and rights of those who menstruate around the world.
World is Changing
In the last decade, the world witnessed a major shift in how advocates talk about menstruation. They are highlighting that menstruation is not the only issue of health, hygiene, and dignity but also a matter of gender equality and human rights.
They refused to treat it as a taboo, a topic of shame and timidity. They are raising voices calling for all menstruating adolescents and adults to be able to access school and employment and to access safe, affordable, and acceptable menstrual supplies.
Menstruation Recognized as A Human Rights Issue
In recent years this issue has increasingly been addressed at the United Nations. The UN General Assembly expressly recognized the neglect of menstrual hygiene management, in December 2019.
It is considered an issue in schools, workplaces, health centers, & public facilities that is creating negative effects on gender equality & human rights including the right to education & the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
The first-ever resolution on the issue of “Menstrual Hygiene Management, Human Rights and Gender Equality” was adopted in 2019 by a consensus of member states, the UN intergovernmental body, and the Human Rights Council.
Policymakers Taking Action on the Domestic Level
A decade ago, there was relatively little public awareness about this issue. But since 2014, the term “period poverty” gained traction.
It is defined as “the increased economic vulnerability that can stem from the cost of menstrual supplies, pain management, and other menstruation-related issues.”
Policymakers are addressing this issue in Ministries, Parliaments, and Courtrooms. For example, India, Kenya, and South Africa have adopted policies and strategies.
These policies will ensure that adolescents learn about menstruation and menstrual hygiene, to de-stigmatize the issue, and support access to quality menstrual supplies.
Furthermore, Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Ireland, and Kenya reduced and eliminated the taxation of menstrual products. Even some countries are even instituting paid menstrual leave for those experiencing painful or disabling periods.
Quality Standards for Menstrual Products Adopted around the World
Governments, organizations, and supply experts in recent years have begun to focus on improved quality standards.
For example, groups like the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition and others have developed quality specifications for disposable menstrual pads, reusable menstrual pads, menstrual cups, and tampons.
Provision of Stigma Free Information
The aspect of taboo, silencing, and myths created poor knowledge regarding menstruation. This also led to vulnerability and poor management. That results in health issues.
There is a need to provide the right information to dispel misinformation and eliminate shame. It is essential to address harmful social norms, eradicate stigmas and provide comprehensive sex education.
UNFPA is working closely with organizations and partners around the world to improve stigma-free information about sexual and reproductive health, including menstruation, and to empower young people to stand up for their health and rights.
Laura Bas, Youth Ambassador for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Gender Equality and Bodily Autonomy said that during youth consultations, they noticed that young people are ready to break the taboo around menstruation.”
“Young people are full of creative ideas to normalize talking about menstruation. Young girls from South Sudan told me that they wanted to create buddy systems at high schools.
There, the older girls teach younger girls everything they need to know about menstruation,” Bas said.