Women and Girl’s Menstrual Health Matters. Period
Meghan Brockington, The Unmentionables Director.
The Period. The Crimson Tide. “That time of the month”. Aunt Flo. These are many names for one thing. Menstruation. Whatever you may refer to it as, menstruating is a right of passage for every girl worldwide blooming into womanhood. And although menstruation is the most natural thing in the world, it can be a very uncomfortable topic to talk about.
Women, I want you to remember the first time you menstruated. You were probably confused, emotional, shy, embarrassed and maybe in some pain. Now imagine you are that girl again, but this time you are no longer in the comfort of your own home. You have been forcefully displaced to a foreign country where the costumes and language is unfamiliar to you. Perhaps you are too embarrassed to go outside, perhaps you do not have a private and safe place to tend to your reproductive health needs or perhaps you do not have access to feminine hygiene products that meet both your personal and cultural needs. This is the reality of thousands of women and girls worldwide.
Why Addressing Menstrual Health Matters:
1. Primary Prevention of Infection
Although women’s reproductive and sexual health is recognized as a priority in emergency settings, significant gaps continue to exist in meeting health needs. Simply put, poor menstrual hygiene can lead to infection. Specifically, the use of unclean sanitary pads or materials can cause local irritation, urinary tract infections and/or reproductive tract infections. Furthermore, wet pads, which result from infrequent change of sanitary pads, can cause skin irritation or infection. Access to an adequate supply of sanitary materials is imperative to preventing infection in women and girls.
Gender-based violence is exacerbated in crisis settings. Lack of proper infrastructure, such as lighting in bathrooms or private places to wash sanitary materials can be dangerous to women and girls. Providing them with reproductive and sexual health materials can help respond to some of these dangers.
3. Preserve Dignity through Hygiene
Many taboos continue to exist surrounding the topic of menstruation. Women and girls may decrease activity or hide during their week of menstruation. However, by addressing the health need in a sensitive manner, and by providing women and girls with appropriate management materials, they can maintain their dignity, feel comfortable and not shy away from daily activities.
What can be done?
Grassroots organizations, like The Unmentionables, address reproductive and sexual health needs in the most dignified manner possible. Their distribution model is based upon detailed needs assessments that not only enable them to find out what products are needed but what products are wanted. What makes them effective is that they are not only asking women what they need to maintain health but they are asking them what products will make them feel safe, maintain their dignity, protect their cultural values and improve their health. By simply asking, The Unmentionables provide dignity through hygiene and perhaps make menstruation a little less uncomfortable.
The Unmentionables' work, providing underwear, sanitary products and sexual health products, is vital for the health, protection and security of displaced women and girls around the world. Join us on World Health Day, April 7th, to provide displaced women and girls with access to underwear and feminine hygiene products to help protect them against sexual and gender-based violence, disease, and infection.
If you are interesting in doing some further reading on the topic of menstrual health, here are some suggestions:
Adanu, R.M., Johnson, T.R., 2009. Migration and women’s health. Int J Gynecol Obstet., 106(2), pp.179–81.
Austin, J., Guy, S., Jones-Lee, L., McGinn, T. & Schlect, J., 2008. Reproductive Health: A Right for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Reproductive Health Matters., 16(31), pp. 10-21.
Freedman, J., 2016. Sexual and gender-based violence against refugee women: a hidden aspect of the refugee "crisis". Reproductive Health Matters., 24(47), pp. 18-26.
Askew, I., Khosla, R., Daniels, U., Krause, S., Lofthouse, C., Say, L., Gilmored, K. & Zeide, S., 2016. Sexual and Reproductive health right in emergencies. Bulletin of the World Health Organization., pp. 94-31.
World Health Organization. 2012. Integrating sexual and reproductive health into health emergency and disaster risk management.
Tran, N-T., Dawson, A., Meyers, J., Krause, S., Hickling, C., Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) on Reproductive Health in Crisis., 2015. Developing Institutional Capacity for Reproductive Health in Humanitarian Settings: A Descriptive Study. PLoS ONE 10(9): e0137412. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0137412.