- Society’s response to menstruation is linked to human rights and gender equality -
Menstrual Hygiene Day is observed throughout the world on May 28. The theme of Menstrual Hygiene Day 2022 is “to make menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030”. We interviewed UNICEF Representative in Mongolia Evariste Kouassi-Komlan to talk about why observing this day and raising menstrual hygiene awareness is important.
Can you tell us about Menstrual Hygiene Day and why it is observed on May 28?
Thank you for having me on your media platform to talk about this important human rights, gender equality and human dignity-linked issue. It is vital to raise awareness on this day because unfortunately – due to cultural beliefs, gender inequality and stigmatization – millions of girls and women are unable to manage their menstrual cycle in a dignified and healthy way. The theme of Menstrual Hygiene Day in 2022 is to make menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030. Observing Menstrual Hygiene Day creates a global advocacy platform that brings together the voices and actions of non-profit organizations, government agencies, individuals, the private sector and the media to promote good menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) for all girls and women. It aims to catalyze awareness and action toward a world without period poverty and stigma. Hence, a public awareness-raising campaign, #WeAreCommitted, is to be organized on this day. Why May 28 you ask? Well, the date represents the menstrual cycle, the average duration of which is 28 days, with an average of five days of bleeding. Of course, the fifth month in the calendar is May, so there is a hidden symbolism in it.
In many places across Mongolia, particularly in rural areas, girls, especially schoolgirls, feel ashamed and intimidated for menstruating. Is this a common problem around the world?
Indeed it is, despite menstruation being a natural fact of life and a monthly occurrence for 1.8 billion persons of reproductive age. Yet, millions across the world are denied the right to manage their monthly menstrual cycle in a dignified and healthy way. We all should realize that periods are very normal and nothing to be ashamed of. No one should make fun of anyone for getting their period. The way people and societies act and think about menstruation makes a big difference in how girls and boys behave. Girls with disabilities, for example, face even more difficulties because accessible toilets are not always available, especially in rural areas. This is also true in Mongolia, where most schools still use open pit latrines and have no running water. Women and girls encounter difficulties managing hygiene during menstruation when they lack the enabling environment to do so. When they have difficulty exercising their rights to water, sanitation and education, they will likely have difficulty managing their menstruation.
When women and girls cannot manage their menstrual hygiene, it can negatively impact their rights, including the rights to education, work and health. Hence, it is important to discuss menstruation with your friends and families and raise awareness of it so that there is no more bullying related to menstruation in schools, communities or any other setting. It also is very important to enable people to manage their monthly menstrual cycle in a dignified and healthy way by making water and sanitation facilities accessible. Mobilizing all of the society including governments, civil society organizations and the private sector engaged in water, sanitation and hygiene issues helps promote and manage menstrual health.
Why does UNICEF work on this issue and what other UNICEF interventions can you highlight?
UNICEF, the largest global child rights organization, envisions a world where every girl can learn, play and safeguard her own health without experiencing stress, shame or unnecessary barriers to information or supplies during menstruation. UNICEF is working with governments and partners to ensure that schools provide safe and hygienic access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities for girls to manage their periods well. UNICEF also supports a better understanding of menstruation by making information accessible and enabling supplies. UNICEF is dedicated to helping girls face their periods with dignity. One such intervention is an innovative approach, introduced with UNICEF’s help, to track and manage periods. UNICEF reached out to girls in many different countries to create the OKY app. Girls determined themselves how the app should look and work, and it has many features to protect the privacy of girls who share phones or have poor connectivity. With the user-friendly OKY app, girls have a tool created by girls themselves, so that they always feel informed and in control of their menstruation.
With the goal of “making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030”, what improvements are expected in the coming years?
Unfortunately, evidence on MHH is still limited. Therefore, more and higher-quality evidence needs to be generated on the impact of MHH on girls’ lives, and the effectiveness of MHH interventions. Even where previous studies exist on MHH, information may not be available for specific sub-populations. Special attention needs to be paid to the supply side and supporting local small and medium-sized enterprises to develop locally-made and biodegradable pads for menstruation. We need to make water and sanitation facilities available in dormitories and make pads always available in schools. Menstrual hygiene education should be included in all schools as part of regular coursework.
We also need to find ways to encourage flexible working arrangements for people who experience pain during menstruation. There is a clear need to continue campaigning to reduce taboos about menstruation. Finally, we need to invest in more public and private resources to manage menstrual health. As MHH is important for the fulfillment of girls’ and women’s and also a key objective of the Sustainable Development Goals, UNICEF remains committed to advancing the MHM agenda in Mongolia and throughout the world.