Tackling the taboo of menstrual hygiene in the European Region

WHO/Malin Bring

Globally, 52% of women and girls are of reproductive age – around 1.9 billion people. Yet, a massive taboo and stigma still surrounds the topic of menstruation, and it is often difficult for girls and women in many countries and regions to practice optimal menstrual hygiene. WHO/Europe has been working with Member States to better understand the magnitude of the problem and to support the development of policies to tackle the inequality surrounding menstrual hygiene management (MHM). To encourage more supportive environments for MHM and to help break the taboo, health and education sectors came together to discuss joint action at the third expert meeting on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools, held in Bonn on 23–24 October 2018 under the framework of the Protocol on Water and Health.

Inequality in relation to MHM has many causes, such as lack of information about menstruation, unsatisfactory sanitation infrastructure and the fact that menstrual management supplies are often unavailable or unaffordable. Participants at the meeting in Bonn recognized that MHM is a matter that concerns the dignity and well-being of all women and girls, particularly school-aged girls who often miss classes due to inadequate MHM, and one that underpins rights to sanitation and gender equality in education.

At the meeting, Member States shared examples of good practice on how to measure the scope of the problem, identify the needs of those affected, improve facilities in schools and strengthen school education on menstruation.

Understanding menstrual poverty in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

A recent study on menstrual poverty in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia revealed that 90% of female students in rural areas do not visit school for 4–5 days while they are on their period. In urban areas, this drops to 75% who skip school for 2–3 days while on their period. Inadequate conditions for managing menstrual hygiene at school and the high price of products for MHM were cited as the most common reasons.

Free menstrual hygiene products for pupils and students in Scotland, United Kingdom

Following a youth survey on the provision of menstrual products in schools, the Scottish Government now provides access to free menstrual products to students in schools, colleges and universities to support equality, dignity and rights for those who menstruate. This initiative aims to ensure that lack of access to products does not impact on anyone’s ability to fully participate in education at all levels. The government has also commissioned a digital platform, which gives young people all the information they need about periods and access to menstrual hygiene products.

Menstrual hygiene education for children with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan

In Kyrgyzstan, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) supported the Ministry of Education in developing educational materials on MHM. These materials were distributed to all schools in the country. Specific MHM education materials were also reproduced in alternative formats for children with visual and hearing disabilities to provide them access to critical information on girls’ hygiene, child rights and safety. Three publications on MHM in Kyrgyz and Russian languages were reproduced in Braille and audio formats for children and parents. A child-friendly version of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as school safety publications, were reproduced in video format with subtitles and sign language interpretation and as interactive books with audio description. The materials are accessible through specialized schools, the Kyrgyz Association of the Blind and Deaf and special online libraries.