50th session of the Human Rights Council Panel discussion on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality
Menstrual Health is firmly on the global agenda today.
Menstrual Health was not on the agenda of the International Conference on the Population and Development or the Millennium Declaration. Nor it is explicitly stated in the Sustainable Development Goals targets for goals 3 (health), 5 (gender equality) or 6 (water and sanitation). However, it has been placed on the global health, education, human rights, and gender equality/equity agendas by grass-roots workers and activists from the global South, drawing attention to reports of women’s and girls’ experiences of shame and embarrassment, and the barriers they face in managing their period because they do not have the means to do so, with consequences for their life opportunities including their rights to education, work, water and sanitation, non-discrimination and gender equality – and ultimately to health. WHO salutes the grass-roots workers and activists, notably those from the global South, who have doggedly championed menstrual health, and welcomes the inclusion of Menstrual Health in the Human Rights Council agenda.
WHO calls for menstrual Health to be recognized, framed and addressed as a health and human rights issue, not a hygiene issue:
WHO calls for three actions. Firstly, to recognize and frame menstruation as a health issue, not a hygiene issue – a health issue with physical, psychological, and social dimensions, and one that needs to be addressed in the perspective of a life course – from before menarche to after menopause. Secondly, to recognize that menstrual health means that women and girls and other people who menstruate, have access to information and education about it; to the menstrual products they need; water, sanitation, and disposal facilities; to competent and empathic care when needed; to live, study and work in an environment in which menstruation is seen as positive and healthy not something to be ashamed of; and to fully participate in work and social activities. Thirdly, to ensure that these activities are included in the relevant sectoral work plans and budgets, and their performance is measured.
WHO recognizes that several sectors have equally important roles to play in promoting and safeguarding Menstrual Health and is committed to stepping up its efforts to encourage health policymakers and programme managers to engage with these sectors to promote the rights of women, girls and other people who menstruate and meet their comprehensive menstrual health needs, especially in humanitarian contexts. WHO is also committed to breaking the silence and stigma associated with menstruation and to make schools, health facilities and other workplaces (including WHO’s workplaces), menstruation responsive.
Governments are beginning to act, but they need to do much more.
Activists – including young people – and nongovernmental organizations have done much to place menstrual health on the agenda. A growing number of governments are taking action. Some governments have removed taxes on menstrual products. Others have focused on the challenges faced by school-going adolescents in obtaining menstrual products. Still others have put in place strategies to provide menstrual products to populations in difficult circumstances e.g., those who are homeless or those who are incarcerated. Finally, a handful of countries have put in place laws and policies for medical leave when one is experiencing pain, discomfort and other symptoms and signs related to menstruation. These are useful steps, but governments could and should do more than improve access to menstrual products. They should make schools, workplaces and public institutions supportive of managing 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 include an attention to menstruation as part of a broader Sexual and Reproductive Health response in those who are displaced because of war or natural calamities.