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Menstrual Heath: I’ve Got the World on a String

Have You Ever?

Have you ever forgotten to pack a tampon when you needed it? Most likely, you got one from a friend or the nurse and moved on with your day. But what would you have done if you couldn’t find any period products? 

Explanation

Unfortunately, this is a problem for many people who menstruate. Access to menstrual hygiene products and menstrual health education are not universally available for many people around the globe. This lack of products and education makes everyday activities like going to school and work impossible during someone’s menstrual cycle.

Definition of Menstrual Health

Menstrual health refers to the rights, health, wellbeing, empowerment, equity, gender equality, and education of all menstruating people. Menstrual health applies to anyone who menstruates, including girls, women, transgender men, and nonbinary people. It encompasses all the factors of healthy menstruation. These factors include access to affordable and safe menstrual hygiene products, health services, safe and sanitary bathing facilities, hygienic disposal methods, and freedom from societal stigmas and discrimination. 

How it Works

Menstrual health is directly related to menstrual hygiene and a person’s ability to access safe, private bathing areas and menstrual hygiene products. Menstruating people, or menstruators, suffer from this inaccessibility in both developed and developing nations. Some examples of places with barriers to good menstrual hygiene include prisons, homeless shelters, and impoverished school systems. Menstrual hygiene can also be impeded by extreme poverty, natural disasters, and humanitarian crises. Without proper access to sanitary products, menstruators have to choose between staying home or free bleeding. 

When socioeconomic status affects menstrual health, it is commonly referred to as “period poverty.” Out of desperation, some schoolgirls have resorted to transactional sex so that they can pay for the hygiene products they need. Without the ability to practice good menstrual hygiene, people may suffer from higher risks of infection, especially those with disabilities or special needs. Dignity during menstruation is a fundamental human right and social, political, and economic efforts must be made to ensure it is possible for all menstruators.

Menstruators may also suffer from stigma, discrimination, and embarrassment from problems such as leaks. Cultural myths and taboos may exacerbate this discrimination, embarrassment, or abuse. Some common myths about menstruation are that it is dirty and dangerous, that it indicates readiness for marriage and sexual intercourse, or that it limits menstruators’ abilities, among others. 

Applying it

Menstruation is a normal and healthy biological function for millions of people across the globe. Despite the fact the girls, women, transgender men, and nonbinary people all menstruate 2-7 days each month, many menstruators are subjected to lack of resources, stigma and discrimination. 

For those that lack basic facilities at home, managing periods can be a major difficulty. Only 27% of people living in the least developed countries have access to a handwashing facility with soap and water at home, and globally, 2.3 billion people do not have basic sanitation services. Lack of sanitation services is also a problem in roughly 50% of schools in low-income countries, causing both students and teachers alike to struggle managing their menstrual cycle. This problem can lead to people missing or dropping out of school, exemplifying how important it is for schools to have safe and clean toilets and running water. 

In addition to access to sanitation facilities, one of the most effective strategies to combat discrimination is education for both menstruating and non-menstruating people. Explaining the biological process of menstruation to children  encourages healthy habits and fosters confidence, as well as social solidarity. Nonprofits can help provide supplies to those in need. For example, in emergencies, UNICEF donates flashlights and whistles for safety while using the bathroom, and sanitary pads, to menstruators. This organization also provides soap, water, and toilets to some extremely impoverished schools. Governments, schools, and communities must all work together to end period poverty by fighting taboos, encouraging healthy hygiene habits, providing menstrual education, and providing needed resources and supplies.

Think Further

  1. Does your community and school system excel at combating period poverty? Are sanitation facilities available to all people in our community? 
  2. What can we do to combat period poverty, stigma, and discrimination within our community? Outside our community?
  3. Before watching this video, how familiar were you with  period poverty? What systems or people contributed to your knowledge or lack thereof?

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Learn More

  1. UNFPA. Menstruation and Human Rights – Frequently Asked Questions. United Nations Population Fund, 1 May 2020, www.unfpa.org/menstruationfaq
  2. UNICEF. Guidance on Menstrual Health and Hygiene . Mar. 2019, www.unicef.org/wash/files/UNICEF-Guidance-menstrual-health-hygiene-2019.pdf
  3. FAST FACTS: Nine Things You Didn’t Know about Menstruation. 15 July 2020, www.unicef.org/press-releases/fast-facts-nine-things-you-didnt-know-about-menstruation
  4. “Menstrual Cycle Tool.” Womenshealth.gov, 16 Mar. 2018, www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/your-menstrual-cycle