A human rights framework on menstrual health offers new perspectives

Inga T. Winkler, a Lecturer in Human Rights at Columbia University in the U.S., argues that using a human rights framework to assess menstrual health may offer new perspectives, as it focuses on excluded, marginalized, and neglected parts of the population.

– Menstruation covers many facets of our life. It is deeply symbolic and associated with cultural and religious practices around the world. It is a pivotal issue that affects people’s realization of their human rights.

Winkler uses the human rights framework to assess menstrual health practices. This offers new perspectives that might otherwise be overlooked, by focusing on excluded, marginalized, or neglected parts of the population.

– The human rights framework calls on policy-makers to find solutions that work for all people who menstruate. For example, it highlights and prioritizes the experiences of refugees, homeless people, transgendered, disabled and sex workers. In addition, it provides a comprehensive framework for addressing menstrual health by balancing human rights to health, work, education, bodily autonomy, freedom of religion and many others. Most of all, it stresses agency and voice.

Winkler is positive about the increased attention of menstruation all over the world and in every societal arena, from policy-making to media. At the same time, she stresses the need to have a critical mindset to ensure that all perspectives are taken into account. Here, researchers have an important role to play, according to Winkler.

– As academics, it is our role to be asking critical questions, such as: Do we inadvertently reinforce the perception of menstruation as ‘dirty’ and ‘impure’ when we use the term ‘menstrual hygiene’? Do we exclude genderqueer menstruators when we focus on women and girls, thereby continuing to present gender as binary? Do we exclude particular groups of the population when not considering their particular experiences?

Do we inadvertently reinforce the perception of menstruation as ‘dirty’ and ‘impure’ when we use the term ‘menstrual hygiene’?

Another important factor in changing the attitudes and practices of menstruation, Winkler argues, is to involve men.

– Gender equality is about gender relations, and men have notable stakes in reproductive health. Men constitute a significant share of head positions, making decisions that greatly impact women’s everyday lives: from policy-makers deciding on matters such as the tampon tax, to principals choosing lightly-colored school uniforms without considering girls who are afraid of their period stain visibility. Achieving gender equality will require structural changes, but to make these positive changes happen faster, we need men on board, says Winkler.