Menstrual health is firmly on the global agenda today.
Menstrual health was not on the agenda of the International Conference on Population and Development or the Millennium Declaration. It is also not explicitly stated in the SDG targets for Goals 3 (health), 5 (gender equality) or 6 (water and sanitation). However, it has been placed on the global agenda for health, education, human rights and gender equality/justice by grassroots workers and activists from the global South, drawing attention to reports of women and girls experiencing shame and embarrassment and barriers that they face in controlling their periods because they do not have the means to do so, with consequences for their life chances, including their rights to education, work, water and sanitation, non-discrimination and gender equality – and ultimately to health. WHO salutes lay workers and activists, especially from the global South, who are stubbornly advocating for menstrual health and welcomes the inclusion of menstrual health on the agenda of the Human Rights Council.
The WHO calls for menstrual health to be recognized, framed and seen as a health and human rights issue rather than a hygiene issue:
WHO calls for three actions. First, recognize and present menstruation as a health problem rather than a hygiene problem—a health problem that has physical, psychological, and social dimensions and needs to be addressed in terms of the life cycle, from pre-menarche to post-menopause. . Second, to recognize that menstrual health means that women, girls and other people who are menstruating have access to information and education on the subject; to the menstrual products they need; water supply, sanitation and sanitation; to competent and sensitive care when needed; live, study and work in an environment where menstruation is considered positive and healthy, and not something shameful; and participate fully in work and social activities. Thirdly, to ensure that these activities are included in the relevant sectoral work plans and budgets and their effectiveness is evaluated.
WHO recognizes that several sectors play an equally important role in the promotion and protection of menstrual health and is committed to intensifying its efforts to encourage health policymakers and program managers to engage with these sectors to protect the rights of women, girls and other people who are menstruating . and address their comprehensive menstrual health needs, especially in humanitarian contexts. WHO is also committed to breaking down the silence and stigma associated with menstruation and ensuring that schools, healthcare facilities and other workplaces (including WHO workplaces) are responsive to menstruation.
Governments are starting to act, but they need to do much more.
Activists, including young people, and non-governmental organizations have done much to put menstrual health on the agenda. More governments are taking action. Some governments have eliminated taxes on menstrual products. Others focused on the challenges teenage students face when purchasing menstrual products. Still others have introduced strategies to provide menstrual supplies to populations in difficult circumstances, such as the homeless or prisoners. Finally, several countries have enacted laws and regulations regarding sick leave when a person experiences pain, discomfort, and other symptoms and signs associated with menstruation. These are helpful steps, but governments can and should do more than just improve access to menstrual products. They must ensure that schools, workplaces and public institutions support menstruation with comfort and dignity. More importantly, they should normalize menstruation and break the silence around it. Finally, in the context of what is happening in Ethiopia, Ukraine, and elsewhere, governments should look to menstruation as part of a broader response to the sexual and reproductive health of those who have been displaced by war or natural disasters.