Menstrual Health: WaterAid Galvanises Action to Advance Gender Equality, Global Health

By Uangbaoje Alex, Kaduna

WaterAid Nigeria has joined a team of experts from around the world to establish a definition of menstrual health that comprehensively addresses the needs of people who menstruate to advance gender equality and global health.

The group said despite increased global attention on period poverty, there has been no universal agreement on the definition of menstrual health, which has diluted advocacy efforts and led to fragmented action.

The Country Director of WaterAid Nigeria, Evelyn Mere, in a statement said having a new definition will provide a common language, harmonise approaches and unite efforts to support the range of menstrual needs in the society.

According to her, “recently published in the journal ‘Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters’, menstrual health is defined as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle.”The new definition, launching ahead of Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May and brought together by the Global Menstrual Collective is grounded in the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of health, and sets out clear requirements for achieving menstrual health”.

She stressed that menstrual hygiene covers access to clean water, good sanitation and hygiene, access to information about the menstrual cycle and self-care, materials, timely diagnosis and treatment for menstrual disorders and discomforts.

Mere added that positive and respectful environment and the freedom to participate in all spheres of life throughout the menstrual cycle is part of it.

The statement reads; “As the world continues to grapple with the impacts of COVID-19 on health, livelihoods and socio-economic activities, women, and girls, especially the poorest and most marginalised who already faced health and safety implications in managing their menstruation without access to clean water and private toilets before the crisis, are finding that the pandemic has only exacerbated the obstacles they face in managing their periods.

This Menstrual Hygiene Day, WaterAid Nigeria is urging the government to take urgent action to increase investment in menstrual health and empower women and girls to unlock educational and economic opportunities through improved access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene.”

WaterAid expressed dismay that the shame and stigma around periods prevents women and girls from engaging in conversations around their periods.

The country director stated that the theme for this year’s campaign, ‘More action & investment in menstrual health & hygiene now!’ is a clear call to step up investment in menstrual health to ensure no woman or girl is held back because she menstruates.

“We need to create a world where no woman or girl is held back because she menstruates. This means a world in which every woman and girl is empowered to manage her menstruation safely, hygienically, with confidence and without shame.

“Menstrual health is vital to the empowerment and well-being of women and girls and beyond access to affordable sanitary products and water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, it is also about ensuring women and girls live in an environment that values and supports their ability to manage their menstruation with dignity. It is about helping women and girls and all the people around them have the information awareness and the knowledge around this issue. It’s about making sure we have services that respond to the needs of our young girls and women.

“Menstrual health is a human rights issue that matters to the achievement of several Sustainable Development Goals including the goals on health, education, gender equality.

Mere also mentioned water and sanitation, economic growth, sustainable consumption and production patterns as part of the development.

According to her, lack of water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities in public places like schools, offices, and healthcare centres can lead millions of women and girls are to have poor management of their menstruation with dignity.

WaterAid Nigeria called on the government and relevant stakeholders to include menstrual health in post pandemic recovery plans, including mobilising resources to facilitate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in public places that will provide safe and private spaces for women and girls to manage their periods hygienically.

They called for increase access to sanitary products by partnering with the private sector to supply disposable sanitary products to girls in school and marginalised women.

“Follow the example of 36 countries including Kenya, India, South Africa, New Zealand and the UK who have applied either a tax reduction or exemption to menstrual products and are providing free period products in schools and public institutions.

“Reduce the stigma and shame around menstruation by promoting open discussion of menstrual health and hygiene and curriculum policy reforms, WaterAid noted.

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