The topic of menstrual health remains a taboo topic for many people in many countries. I know that in my family, it was rarely talked about growing up even though it is such a normal part of life for women. Many women often experience shame, exclusion, and stigmatization simply because they menstruate. In addition, it is often difficult for women to practice safe menstrual hygiene as at least 500 million women and girls globally lack access to water, sanitation, hygiene facilities and menstrual products.
The establishment of Menstrual Hygiene Day - celebrated annually on May 28th - is a way to recognize the barriers women and girls face when it comes to menstrual hygiene and to open the dialogue on what can be done to combat this issue. This year, #WeAreCommitted will be the theme and it could not be more fitting. It’s time we act and push for commitments to greater investment in menstrual health and hygiene. In particular, the voices of women and girls need to be at the forefront in order for advocacy to lead to change.
There are many organizations and efforts across the globe that are putting the voices of women first, highlighting the importance of changing the social norms surrounding menstrual hygiene. The organization One Drop, for instance, is utilizing the voices of women as leaders in the improvement of water and sanitation management. They are working to involve women in the decision-making process by having women's groups sitting on the board of influential organization such as WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) committees. Raising the voices of women and girls is just one part - Advocates from One Drop have stated that we must commit to ensuring separate bathrooms for boys and girls that provide access to drinking water to increase girls’ ability to go to school.
Another interesting effort by the organization Enhancing Nutrition Services to Improve Maternal and Child Health (ENRICH) works to increase access to sexual and reproductive health services (i.e., menstrual-hygiene management) and information among adolescents in Kenya, Tanzania, Bangladesh and Myanmar. This program not only provided these services, but even inspired young women to seize opportunities for leadership.
The story of 18 year-old Sumi is just one example of a leader changing the narrative of menstrual hygiene in the community. With the help of ENRICH, Sumi founded and acts as secretary of the Adolescent Girl Power Groups (AGPGs), an initiative that brings together young women in her small community in northern Bangladesh to learn about menstrual, reproductive, and sexual health.
It is unacceptable for women to experience continuous barriers because of something that is natural. We must breakdown the stigmas and negative perceptions around menstrual health and bring the voices of women and girls at the forefront to change the narrative. On May 28th, I challenge all of you to use your own voice to advocate and be an ally for change this menstrual hygiene day.
You can visit menstrualhygieneday.org to gather your materials to participate in this year’s campaign!