CELEBRATING MENSTRUAL HEALTH
Sapna Kedia is a Technical Specialist and 3D Program Manager at ICRW Asia
Vanessa Coello is a Senior Associate at the 3D Program for Girls and Women
Managing menstrual hygiene for girls and women is a challenge because of the taboos and secrecy that surround menstruation, the high cost of quality disposable sanitary napkins, the lack of access to clean toilets and water, and the lack of environmentally sound and private ways to dispose used napkins. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened these challenges, making it a critical time to develop support systems for girls and women who menstruate and to break the taboos that surround it. It is through this lens that menstrual health products, communication material, infrastructure, policies and programs should be approached.
On 27th May 2020, the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) and its Asia office hosted a Twitter chat to celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day and to show how menstruation impacts all aspects of girls’ and women’s lives and to highlight the challenges many face without proper support for menstrual health management. ICRW invited several organizations to host each hour of the 6-hour Twitter chat, including the 3D Program for Girls and Women, the Menstrual Health Alliance of India, Be Girl, Essar Foundation, WaterAid India, Huru International, and the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition (RHSC). Each hour of the chat focused on one issue or theme related to menstrual health, including menstrual health in India during COVID-19, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities and sanitary waste management, and comprehensive menstrual health and hygiene in various African countries, among others.
The Twitter chat generated considerable attention from participants across time zones. Participants included government agencies, NGOs and international NGOs, cooperatives, donors, suppliers and corporate foundations. A common theme across sessions highlighted menstruation as a health issue, without limiting it to concerns of hygiene. The discussions emphasized that the impact of menstruation-related issues (taboos, access to products, health concerns, sanitation facilities and waste management) should be viewed as a continuum that affects girls’ and women’s overall health and well-being.
ICRW Asia and the 3D Program teamed up to conduct a discussion focusing on menstrual health as a right that requires multi-sectoral action, exploring the ways in which menstrual health impacts menstruators’ rights, reproductive health, education, and experiences of violence. For example, tweets highlighted how menstrual health and access to WASH facilities impact the continuation and quality of education, as school-age menstruators often must take time away from school to manage their menstrual flow. Participants also pointed out the ways that menstrual health is related to overall sexual and reproductive knowledge and health. The links to violence against girls and women were revealed in tweets that focused on social taboos related to menstruation and stigmatization of girls and women who are menstruating. When considering the many ways menstruation affects girls’ and women’s lives, it becomes clear that menstruation is not only a health issue, but it is also a safety issue, an education issue, a reproductive health issue and more, impacting mobility, autonomy and safety. It is a multi-sectoral issue that requires a multi-sectoral response.
A highlight of the Twitter chat was the theme that ‘periods don’t stop during pandemics’. Tweets emphasized how COVID-19 has impacted menstruators due to disruption in supply chains of menstrual products, medicines, and disposal facilities. Participants reiterated the need to build resilient local supply chains, so that in crisis situations, such as the current pandemic, menstruators do not have to rely on supply chains that are far removed from their realities. Furthermore, it was emphasized that we need to invest in sustainable, environmentally-friendly, locally producible menstrual options for girls and women.
It was fitting that the Twitter chat included discussion on the use of technology in menstrual health management to further expand access to communications around menstrual health, including facts and information, products and innovation. However, like most other issues, when applying technology to the field of menstrual health we must keep in mind the concern of inequitable access: are the most marginalized of the intended audience being reached? Similarly, the perspectives present on Twitter during the menstrual health chat were only a portion of the full chorus of menstruators and constant effort must be made to ensure that our platforms include the voices that otherwise are not amplified. The digital divide is wide, and technological solutions must account for it.
To get more details on the twitter chat, please follow #MHTwitterChat on Twitter.