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Source: Small Island Developing States

It was a telling moment at the recent Academy Awards when Rayka Zehtabchi, director of Period. End of Sentence, said: “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar.” In 2019, this is where we are: a normal biological function common to the female half of the human population is a taboo subject almost everywhere in the world.

That matters pertaining to having a period are unspeakable in most places is enormously consequential for adolescent girls and women. It means that their monthly need for a place with privacy and hygienic facilities and products remains woefully unaddressed. Inadequately equipped schools and workplaces the world over are inhospitable to girls and women, deterring them from venturing from their homes to get an education or join the workforce.

In some societies, menstruation is pushed so far out of sight that women themselves do not know why they have a monthly cycle and are convinced there is something wrong with them. When managing their menstruation, many are forced to turn to unhealthy alternatives involving dirty rags, leaves or ashes, increasing the risks of infection due to the lack of basic information and facilities.

This is nothing short of shocking on so many levels. It is a reflection of outdated attitudes that continue to shame and effectively punish women and girls for being who they are. It is an affront to their human rights and has no place in our world.

At a time when there is so much to be done to improve the quality of life for many millions around the world, the failure of society and of institutions to enable the full participation of women amounts to a colossal and entirely unaffordable waste of human potential, and we are all the poorer for it.

Against this background, we dedicate this year’s Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28) to the female half of the world’s population and, in particular, the 1.9 billion women who, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), are of reproductive age and thus menstruate. And we celebrate everyone who stands up and propels discussion into the public domain across the globe on menstruation and the needs and rights of girls and women. The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) is dedicated to advancing health and women’s empowerment through sanitation and hygiene focusing on SDG target 6.2 on achieving access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations. SDG 6 cannot be achieved without safe menstrual hygiene management for all women and girls.

From India’s citizen journalism platform, ‘Youth Ki Awaaz’ to Global Citizen’s sustainability and anti-poverty movements, influencers in Hollywood and Bollywood, and myriad opinion shapers in the digital media, have been speaking up every day to tackle stigma and social norms, and address the need for menstrual products, disposal facilities and clinical care with an enormous amount of empathy and support.

In Islamabad, Pakistan, menstrual hygiene practitioners have convened guided discussions about women’s reproductive health and how to pass along biological knowledge on menstruation to community members – women, men, girls and boys – at the grassroots level.

In Kenya, women known as “county first ladies,” highly respected by their local constituents, have been raising their voices to bring menstruation front and center on the local agenda. In Kenya’s Makueni County, the governor’s wife, Nazi Kibwana, has been spearheading her “Keep a Girl in School” campaign, helping public schools distribute sanitary pads to adolescent girls and provide them with educational support on periods.

In Tanzania last year, a training workshop on menstruation, convened by the WSSCC, engaging more than 40 parliamentarians, contributed to lawmakers passing a bill in July 2018 to abolish taxes on sanitary pads.

These are but a few examples of efforts in local settings around the world driving towards greater menstrual equality for women and girls. On the shoulders of their hard-won gains stands an opportunity to combine efforts and expertise, amplify voices on a global scale and shore up partnerships across and beyond the sectors of health, education, gender, water, sanitation and hygiene.

We, and our partners, believe the time has come for a collective global effort capable of shining a brighter light on girls and women, especially in the poorest socioeconomic environments, who are deprived of such fundamental rights as freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination, and the rights to education, health, safe and healthy working conditions, and to participate in public affairs.

By harnessing complementary talent, experience, insight and resources around the world, the envisioned “global collective” would reach out to the poorest and most excluded people first, improve their menstrual health and hygiene, and change the lives of girls and women worldwide once and for all.

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This article was written by Sue Coates, Executive Director ad interim of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council in Geneva, Switzerland. The Council is a UN entity that advocates for improved sanitation and hygiene for the most vulnerable and marginalized people around the world.

MIL OSI Asia Pacific News