Promoting menstrual hygiene management as a means of gender-based violence prevention

By Jacquelyn Easterwood

Many of us know that sanitary pads keep girls in school, allow women to go to work, and prevent embarrassing leaks. But what if we told you that sanitary pads could also protect girls and women from sexual assault and exploitation?


It’s true. Period poverty stifles the success of menstruators around the globe and contributes to high rates of gender-based violence, making menstrual hygiene products (MHPs) crucial to maintaining the safety of girls and women. An article published by The Independent last month showcased research from UNICEF who found that 65 percent of females living in Kenya’s Kibera slum have been forced into transactional sex to obtain sanitary pads. Recognizing the importance of menstrual hygiene management, we at The Unmentionables want to share how we are prioritizing the protection of women and girls through menstrual equity.

We provide menstrual hygiene products for female refugees.

The distribution of menstrual products for refugees has been a key priority for us since The Unmentionables’ inception. To date, we’ve distributed more than 158,000 intimate health products including sanitary pads and underwear. Over 70 percent of women in emergency settings have experienced gender-based violence, and menstrual hygiene management is a vital way to maintain females’ safety once they arrive in camps. For example, due to period shaming, women and girls often feel it necessary to change their MHPs in community latrines after dark so fewer people see them. This puts them at a higher risk for sexual assault in settlements. Access to MHPs means that fewer women and girls are walking around settlements in the dark in order to use unsafe or public latrines, and more women are enabled to participate in daily activities that they may otherwise forego. By ensuring access to MHPs, women and girls are given back their freedom and personal agency.

We provide sexual and reproductive health education to females and males.

A holistic approach to menstrual hygiene management includes comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education in addition to the provision of MHPs. Our classes use an empowerment model and human rights approach to share information about menstrual health, sexual and reproductive rights, family planning methods, sexually transmitted infections, healthy relationships, and sexual and gender-based violence. We provide these education services to both males and females as including men and boys is vital to preventing violence and period shaming from occurring in the first place. When we equip boys and men with menstruation and reproductive education, they’re better suited to assist and understand the MHM needs of women and girls, allowing them to manage their menses safely and with dignity.

By offering health education services and providing an adequate supply of menstrual hygiene products, we can take steps towards preventing gender-based violence in camps and communities and empower women and girls to take back their lives. Read more about our programs here.

Jacquelyn Easterwood is a recent recipient of a master’s degree from New York University’s Center for Global Affairs where she studied International Development and Humanitarian Assistance. Her research mainly featured global sexual and reproductive health issues, with a focus on menstrual hygiene management in humanitarian emergencies and development contexts.

Daniel Berberi