Margaux Chinal, Water and Sanitation Project Manager at AFD, highlights the importance of public action and the role donors can play in improving menstrual hygiene conditions.
Why do we need a menstrual hygiene awareness day?
Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) was initiated by the WASH United NGO in 2014 and is celebrated each year on 28 May (28 days in a menstrual cycle, including 5 days of menstruation). It was created in order to break the silence surrounding periods, a particularly taboo subject just about everywhere around the world. It is a day of awareness and advocacy, promoting the right to menstrual hygiene education for girls and women, access to hygiene products for all, and fighting the stigmatization surrounding periods.
The goal is to raise awareness of the importance and consequences of menstruation in the lives of women and girls, but also to encourage public authorities and the international community to take strong action to improve the conditions of menstrual hygiene management for all women.
There are many obstacles to improving menstrual hygiene management: persistent taboos, deeply-rooted discriminatory beliefs, a lack of education for girls, a lack of awareness among the population in general, limited or even non-existent access to adequate hygiene products and limited access to appropriate water and sanitation infrastructure.
How does proper menstrual hygiene affect access to all other rights for women?
Not being able to manage periods properly means not having freedom of movement for 5 days every month! Depending on the country, this can mean being stuck at home, missing school, taking time off work or even having to leave their village.
Poor menstrual hygiene can lead to health problems (for example, the use of inappropriate hygiene products increases the risk of vaginal infection by 70%), can compromise education and can have a heavy impact on the emancipation of women in society.
In 2019, millions of women and girls are still confronted with not being able to manage their menstruation in good conditions. They are often forced to leave school or work, avoid public places or hide, putting their health and sometimes their lives in danger.
This stigmatization exists everywhere, but manifests in different ways. Countries like India, Nepal and some regions of Sub-Saharan Africa are the most sensitive countries. To cite some basic figures: in Africa, one in ten girls misses school during her period. In India, 70% of girls do not even know menstruation exists until they have their first period.
Looking at the facts, in some Nepalese communities, women are forced to leave their village during their period, they seek refuge in makeshift shelters, sometimes risking their lives. Several deaths for this reason are recorded each year. But developing countries are not the only ones concerned. There is also progress to be made in France in eliminating the taboos about periods!
What role can AFD play in dealing with this issue?
From an operational point of view, there are solutions. AFD contributes through certain projects in the health, water and sanitation and education sectors. Improved access to water and sanitation, facilities in schools, education for girls and increased general awareness on the subject of menstrual hygiene as well as greater availability of hygiene products are all measures which promote better management of menstrual hygiene.
Given the importance of this issue, and to take things further, since the beginning of 2019 AFD, along with the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and the High Commissioner for the Social Solidarity Economy, has been co-financing a feasibility study for a project to improve menstrual hygiene management conditions in schools in Niger and Ethiopia. An innovative financing tool (a development impact contract) is being studied and could provide a better way of meeting needs. For AFD, this is the first project fully dedicated to the management of menstrual hygiene.