Advocacy Focus

Menstrual Hygiene Management

Menstrual Health: ensuring women’s and girls’ well-being during their period

What is Menstrual Health?

Around 500 million women and girls lack access to gender-sensitive facilities and the menstrual products of their choice to manage their periods. Although menstruation is a normal and natural element of the female reproductive system, it is a taboo topic that is not talked about openly, remaining hidden from others. As a result, many women and girls lack the knowledge of how to maintain their menstrual health.
Furthermore, social and cultural norms, in combination with limited access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities and appropriate menstrual products, restrict their participation in school, work and community activities during menstruation. Our comprehensive programmes aim to address these barriers to menstrual health. YFLZ aims to improve women’s and girls’ experiences of menstrual health whilst addressing a broader set of barriers that tackle issues around gender (in)equality and sexual reproductive health.

Menstrual Health: a matter of Human Rights

Menstrual health enables women to exercise human right equality. It is key to the fulfilment of women’s rights and is at the same time connected to the rights to health, education, gender, dignity, water, and sanitation of any person who menstruates. None of the international human rights instruments explicitly refer to menstruation. In 2014, the UN Human Rights Council did acknowledge for the first time that the lack of menstrual hygiene management and the stigma associated with menstruation, have a negative impact on gender equality.
Menstrual health is a foundational issue to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)

Menstruation is not just an entry point to talk about SRHR, it is a foundational issue to SRHR that should be mainstreamed in SRHR programmes. Women’s and girls’ knowledge, and experience of menstruation influences their understanding and decision making over their bodies. Menstrual health contributes to healthy pregnancies, sexual awareness and influences sexual enjoyment. At the same time, (hormonal) contraceptive use influences menstrual cycles and using the menstrual cycle as a form of contraceptive increases the risks of STIs and HIV infections.

WASH and menstrual and hygiene products.

The WASH sector has been instrumental in putting menstruation on the national agenda. Menstrual hygiene management has been included in many WASH programmes helping to ensure women and girls have access to facilities that respond to their needs. In addition this has spawned the development of new, innovative, menstrual products including re-usable pads, menstrual cups and menstrual cycle trackers.

Although these all address important barriers, menstrual health requires a multi-component approach: combining access to WASH facilities, a choice of products with comprehensive SRHR interventions that are targeted both at people who menstruate and the people in their environment.

Sustainable change in Menstrual Health of women and girls

Youth for life Zimbabwe is determined to improve the menstrual health of women and girls, ensuring they can experience their periods with dignity and fulfil their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

We strive to build our menstrual health programmes on existing evidence and where possible contribute to the gaps in existing evidence. At the same time, we lobby and advocate for the prioritisation of menstrual health in policies and programmes, as well as in international frameworks. And work together with other organisations working on menstrual health, including the Global Menstrual Health and Hygiene Collective, that we are a founding member of.

A definition of Menstrual Health and Hygiene

With our work, Youth for life Zimbabwe contributes to menstrual health and hygiene, as defined by UNICEF as encompassing “both menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and the broader systemic factors that link menstruation with health, well-being, gender equality, education, equity, empowerment, and rights.

These systematic factors have been summarised by UNESCO as accurate and timely knowledge, available, safe, and affordable materials, informed and comfortable professionals, referral and access to health services, sanitation and washing facilities, positive social norms, safe and hygienic disposal, and advocacy and policy.

Long Read

Our view on the nexus: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Youth for life Zimbabwe believes that two factors are crucial in achieving health for all women and girls: sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Women and girls face disproportionate challenges in achieving sexual and reproductive health rights as well as the right to water, sanitation and hygiene compared to men.

Gender Based Violence

Violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.
Gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence. Victims of violence can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and even death.

Youth for life Zimbabwe lead agencies working to further gender equality and women’s empowerment, and to address the physical and emotional consequences of gender-based violence. Ours programmes offer psychosocial assistance, medical treatment and rape kits to survivors, and promote the right of all women and girls to live free of violence and abuse.

SEXUAL REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND RIGHTS

Sexual and reproductive health can be a sensitive topic. In many places around the world it is taboo to speak openly about sex. This can make it difficult to access information and services around sexual and reproductive health, especially in places where religious or cultural beliefs restrict access to contraception or abortion.

Good sexual and reproductive health means having a safe and fulfilling sex life, with the freedom to decide whether or not you want to reproduce, and at what time in your life. Access to clear advice and information on sexual health is crucial, as is being able to choose from a range of contraceptive options, without facing any stigma or discrimination. It is also important to have access to maternal health services during pregnancy and childbirth, to ensure a safe pregnancy for both mother and child.

For many women, a lack of access to these family planning services means they are unable to choose when they have children, and how many children they have. It is often the poorest who cannot access these services, and therefore this lack of planning can have a huge financial impact on women and their families. This can impact on their health, as well as the health of their family. Consequences can be wide-ranging, from child malnutrition to the inability to send all children to school.

A lack of sexual and reproductive health services can also lead to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV. This directly impacts on the health, well-being and livelihoods of families, and can be particularly dangerous if those with the disease have not been able to access health services to diagnose or treat their illness.

At Youth for life Zimbabwe, not only do we believe it is crucial to provide access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services – we also believe in the need to destigmatise sex and sexual health by encouraging open discussions about it in families and communities.

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