Menstrual health covers all the ways we manage a monthly cycle; from the products used, to how we clean them, as well as how it impacts our day-to-day living. Menstrual care has become so second-nature to those of us who menstruate that it might not be given a second thought.
It turns out, though, that menstrual health, or rather, a lack of knowledge or the ability to access sanitary products, can have serious, negative consequences.
Menstruation affects about half of the world’s population; yet in many parts of the world, the stigma and shame, as well as lack of sanitation and good menstrual education, negatively impacts these lives. From rural towns in developing countries to those who struggle with poverty and homelessness in urban centres, there are many different barriers to menstrual health.
Global Menstrual Health Management (MHM)
On Menstrual Health awareness day, let’s break the silence by drawing attention to the specifics.
- There are at least 500 million menstruators worldwide who lack proper access to menstrual health care, limiting their abilities to get an education or maintain a job.
- 7 out of 10 schools in underdeveloped countries lack basic hand wash facilities, sanitation facilities and water services.
- Lack of proper reproductive health education due to, in many countries, cultural taboos and gender-based discrimination, means poor menstrual health management and leading to serious infection.
- In some regions, there are no options but to use old rags, mud and leaves as period care. Disposables are rare, and when available, are extremely expensive and pose serious environmental risks as there is seldom infrastructure in place to handle the waste from plastic wrappers, applicators, and synthetic fibers.
- Individuals struggling with poverty and homelessness in urban cities are forced to choose between spending money on rent, food, and other survival necessities or menstrual health products. Obtaining disposable menstrual products are only a short-term solution to an ongoing need.
- Food banks, shelters, and soup kitchens work hard to address essential needs, but frequently menstruation is deprioritized or not part of the conversation at all.
MHM is fundamental to advancing education, ensuring health, strengthening the economy, protecting the environment, realizing human rights, and changing attitudes around menstruation.
Planetary Perspectives on Menstrual Health
A recent study in The Lancet outlines the environmental impacts of menstrual health management (MHM). As the climate crisis intensifies, those most vulnerable to menstrual inequities will struggle more; insufficient water, disposal methods, water sanitation, and hygiene facilities. The path of more sustainable MHM is linked to just climate action.
We know that single-use menstrual products like pads and tampons, in terms of both their production and their disposal, are not a sustainable option. Single use menstrual products aren’t recyclable and do not biodegrade, leaving microplastics scattered throughout our ecosystem. We find these disposable pads and tampons polluting our beaches, sewer systems, landfills, and bodies of water.
Awareness of the immense impact of these single-use items isn’t adequately recognized. The people responsible for their production, as well as those doing the waste picking and management are exposed to harmful chemicals, that are carcinogenic, allergenic, and/or endocrine disrupting.
Reusable alternatives aren’t suitable in every circumstance. We have to take into account access to water, sanitation and proper hygiene facilities, as well as cultural and religious factors.
We need to approach MHM based on geographic, socioeconomic and cultural differences. According to the Lancet study we need to focus our efforts on “community-based solutions, addressing access, safety, and environmental protection in the most comprehensive, economically feasible and socially acceptable ways”.
In a more tangible way, this means organizing donations, sharing education and working to minimize menstrual stigma in the face of these humanitarian crises.
Reach out to a local organization to support them by helping to assemble product packages or disperse educational materials. Give your support to elected officials who are fighting for just climate action, as well as menstrual and gender equities.
Here are two organizations we partner with to help improve menstrual health management.
The Period Purse
- “2 in 5 Schools around the World Lacked Basic Handwashing Facilities prior to COVID-19 Pandemic — UNICEF, WHO.” Www.who.int, www.who.int/news/item/13-08-2020-2-in-5-schools-around-the-world-lacked-basic-handwashing-facilities-prior-to-covid-19-pandemic-unicef-who.
- CDC. “Menstrual Hygiene.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 Dec. 2022, www.cdc.gov/hygiene/personal-hygiene/menstrual.html.
- “Facts, FAQs, What You Need to Know about Menstrual Hygiene.” Www.wvi.org, www.wvi.org/stories/facts-faqs-what-you-need-know-about-menstrual-hygiene. Accessed 18 May 2023.
- The World Bank. “Menstrual Health and Hygiene.” World Bank, 12 May 2022, www.worldbank.org/en/topic/water/brief/menstrual-health-and-hygiene.
- The Lancet Planetary Health. “A planetary health perspective on menstruation: menstrual equity and climate action.” May 2023, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(23)00081-5/fulltext?_kx=g5c90uX3zdkb14m0qYHmpdrWY8E6PjbSr-N0ZBMukTw%3D.TajVaq