Policy makers act on menstrual health issues

The silence and taboos on issues such as menstruation, incontinence and other stigmatizing conditions, such as lymphedema, need to be broken. Effective hygiene and health practices come from shifting behavior and social norms, which involves a long-term commitment from all of us. Policy makers and opinion leaders have a particularly important role to play and political leadership is required. In some countries, the focus on menstruation has already led to governmental initiatives and actions. Below are two examples of how governments have taken action on menstrual health issues.

Kenya paves the way with Menstrual Hygiene Policy

The Government of Kenya is providing more robust support for menstrual challenges faced by girls and women throughout the nation after approving a landmark policy dedicated to menstrual health and hygiene in November 2019. The stand-alone policy aims to scale up national Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) for those in need.

In a statement issued by the President’s Strategic Communications Unit, the Government of Kenya explicitly acknowledged menstrual health and hygiene as a rights issue, bringing it into “the mainstream of the country’s health and development agenda by considering the prevailing social, economic, cultural and demographic contexts of women and girls.”

Neville Okwaro, a WSSCC MHM trainer and consultant with the Ministry of Health WASH Hub, commended the government`s decision. According to Okwaro, the new MHM policy will help integrate MHM into existing state programs such as Anti-Female Genital Mutilation campaigns, campaigns against early child marriages and gender-based violence, and notably the Beyond Zero campaign that is spearheaded by the country’s First Lady to address issues of child and maternal health.

The policy formulation process has been ongoing since 2016 with a first draft of the MHM policy developed by a technical working group, including Amref Health Africa, Kenya Water for Health Organization, UNICEF, WASH Alliance Kenya, World Vision, WSSCC and Zana Africa with support from the Ministry of Health. With the new policy put in place, key actions for effective policy implementation can begin, including multisectoral and stakeholder efforts to promote implementation, commitment to meaningful resources and investment, and clear measures to ensure that no one is left behind.

Man smiling and standing next to a woman in a red costume (photo)

UK government breaks barriers on menstruation

Period poverty is a widespread issue in the UK, and recent demonstrations and campaigns have brought about national media coverage as well as governmental initiatives. One initiative is the cross-sectoral Period Poverty Taskforce, initiated by the former Minister for Women and Equalities, Penny Mordaunt.

In 2019, the UK government announced that period products in schools, hospitals and police custody will be free for women and girls. The Taskforce, including members from grass-root organizations, businesses, public bodies, academics and social enterprises, was set up to build on this work, looking at where accessibility is an issue for women and girls. The Taskforce has since concluded that tackling stigma and shame around periods is just as important as creating access to related products.

At its first meeting in July 2019, Mordaunt stated that “for too long women and girls in the UK have faced unnecessary adversity around their periods, that is why we have formed this new Taskforce.”

Since the Taskforce formed, it has held regular meetings in workstreams with objectives to address the stigma surrounding menstruation. In its first phase, the workstream has further looked into the roots of the stigma.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, the Taskforce has had less meetings. However, all members are keen to continue the collaboration, especially since the issue of period poverty is only likely to have grown due to the societal consequences of COVID-19.

Wanted measures to improve menstrual health

In the Essity survey, 47% believe that menstruation products should be provided free of charge to students and vulnerable groups (people living in poverty) and 43% think that taxes on menstrual products should be removed.

SDG Target 5 focuse on Gender Equality (icon)

SDG Target 5 focuses on Gender Equality. In SDG 5 C it is underlined to adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.