Working to Advance
Health Equity in Africa

Menstrual Hygiene Day

Menstrual Hygiene Day

The 28th day of the 5th month, based on an average 28 day menstrual cycle with 5 days menstruation, marks Menstrual Hygiene Day – an important day which aims to create awareness around the menstrual-related needs and rights of women and girls across the globe. Further, the recent expansion of definition – from “menstrual hygiene” to “menstrual health”, which builds on the World Health Organisation’s definition of health, firmly embeds menstrual health in a broader sexual and reproductive health and rights framework.

Girls’ and women’s ability to manage their menses and menstrual health is far more than merely a biological process. It is an issue that is fundamentally shaped by the political, economic and social structures and lies at the heart of empowerment, gender equality and the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all girls and women. These structures place women and particularly girls differentially in terms of the challenges they experience in managing their menses. In already challenging circumstances, these difficulties may work to reinforce gender inequalities and further marginalize girls in low-income contexts in very particular ways.  The increasing calls for menstrual health to be viewed as an issue requiring multi sectoral response bears testimony to the complexity of the interaction of factors that contribute to the sum of experience of menstrual health management challenges for girls and women.

It is now well understood that the complex physical, emotional and sociological changes that take place during adolescence establish the foundations for future adult health. Menarche is a crucial developmental and sociological milestone for young girls worldwide – it marks a rite of passage into womanhood through the development of a sexually maturing body and is an important indicator of fertility and marriageability in many societies. A girl’s accurate understanding of her developing body and being able to manage her menses with dignity are crucial to her self- esteem and well-being, as well as her sexual and reproductive health across her lifespan.

Ensuring quality comprehensive sexuality education can contribute enormously to opening up communication over a topic that is often treated with secrecy, stigma and shame. Not only can it address understandings of  menstruation and menstrual health but a constellation of other sexual and reproductive health information needs amongst girls and young women – as well as boys and young men. Sexually active girls and young women require support in choosing the most appropriate female controlled contraceptive methods and be counselled on understandings of side effects, including possible impact on their menses, to ensure that they may delay childbearing while in school and so that they are empowered to decide when, with whom and if they wish to bear a child.

May the 28th is a call for everyone to take a moment to reflect on this day and what it represents for all girls and women. Menstrual Hygiene Day does not merely mark another international day; it is a signpost for the need to continue working towards a world where the circumstance of being poor and being born female does not compromise her fundamental right to dignity, right to education and the right to good sexual and reproductive health.

To find out more about the HEARD’s work on women’s health, please click here and here for Sexual and Reproduction Health and Rights.