Menstruation Holds Back Millions of Poor Women. Does This Outfit Have a Solution?

Monday, August 10, 2015

If it’s true that you can’t talk about global development without discussing gender equality, it’s also true that you can’t dive deep into gender in poor countries without talking about menstruation. However, the international conversation on this topic tends to be in hushed tones. Sometimes, even the most pragmatic global health and development experts get uncomfortable when the subject comes up.

On the other hand, we’ve been impressed by some funders, like Michele Sullivan of the Caterpillar Foundation, who don’t shy away from talking about how the challenges around menstruation can hold women back. Sullivan mentioned this issue in an interview with IP last year in regard to WASH issues, noting that menstruation can be especially difficult for girls to manage without easy access to bathrooms, and this can stop young girls from engaging in school and society just when they need to step up.

The Gates Foundation and other major development funders like Ford have also occasionally addressed this issue with grants or given attention to it. Just a few months ago, the director of policy and advocacy at WaterAid, Lisa Schechtman, wrote about menstruation on the Gates Foundation’s blog, pointing out that on any given day, “more than 800 million women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 are menstruating worldwide,” and for many, this regular event creates serious problems. Yet, said Schechtman, discussion of menstruation hygiene management “rarely appears in donor strategies, national government policies or advocacy agendas.”

Schechtman argued: “It’s time to bring difficult issues like menstruation out of the shadows… Menstrual hygiene is a harbinger of gender equality.”

In wealthy countries, monthly periods are more of a tiresome nuisance and any period-related health issues are generally cleared up by a doctor’s visit. In poor countries, it’s an entirely different story.

  • A 2012 study by WaterAid indicated that 48 percent of girls in Iran and 10 percent of girls in India believed that menstruation was a disease.
  • A UN Children’s Fund study indicated that one in 10 African girls skip school because they have their periods.
  • Approximately 70 percent of all reproductive diseases in India are a result of poor menstrual hygiene.

Source: Inside Philanthropy (link opens in a new window)

Health Care