Menstrual Dignity: a Human Right Neglected Around the World

All over the world, teenagers drop out of school simply for one reason: menstruation. More than 800 million people menstruate daily. However, for many, having access to hygiene is considered a luxury.

Cultural shame associated with menstruation and scarcity of resources prevent millions of girls and women around the world from going to school and working every day. Lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets and handwashing facilities constitutes menstrual poverty felt strongly by populations in many developing countries.

The United Nations estimates that one in ten children in Africa miss school during their menstrual cycle, missing out on 20% of their education. In developing countries, only 27% of people have adequate handwashing facilities at home, according to UNICEF. The inability to use these facilities makes it more difficult to manage menstruation safely and with dignity.

Girls with special needs and disabilities, in turn, also do not have access to the facilities and resources they need for adequate menstrual hygiene. Living in areas affected by conflict or natural disasters also makes it difficult for many women to control their menstruation.

A HEALTH RISK

Poor menstrual hygiene can cause physical health risks and has been linked to reproductive and urinary tract infections, according to UNICEF. At the same time, it also prevents women from reaching their full professional potential when they miss crucial opportunities for their growth. Young people who do not receive an education are more likely to get married at a young age and, as a result, have an early pregnancy and suffer complications during pregnancy, and may also experience problems such as malnutrition or domestic violence.

In mental terms, a lack of menstrual dignity can also have a negative impact, as it makes women feel ashamed of a normal biological process in their body.

THE IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC ON THIS REALITY

The poor quality of life faced daily by low-income or homeless people has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, making many have more difficulty managing their periods. Many women lost access to the hygiene products and facilities they depended on.

About one in four people aged 13 to 35 reported having had more difficulty controlling their periods since the start of the pandemic, according to a survey by international organizations WASH United , World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and UNICEF.

CAN WE STOP THE PROBLEM?

The first step to addressing this reality is to normalize menstruation and destroy taboos surrounding this natural process. It is crucial to take steps to make menstrual, sanitation and hygiene products easily accessible. Many activists and advocates demand that governments prioritize menstrual equality policy. However, this issue still represents a challenge.

Globally, the WSSCC organization has attempted to improve sanitation and hygiene for the most vulnerable populations, trying to break the stigma of menstruation and change national policy through education and behavioral change.

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