50th Session of the Human Rights Council Panel discussion on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality.
Menstrual health is firmly on the global agenda today.
Menstrual health was not on the agenda of the International Conference on Population and Development or the Millennium Declaration. Also, the Sustainable Development Goals do not specifically mention goals for Goals 3 (health), 5 (gender equality), or 6 (water and sanitation). However, it has been placed on the global health, education, human rights and equality/justice agendas by grassroots workers and activists from the Global South to bring attention to reports of shame and embarrassment experienced by women and girls and the barriers they face face managing their period because they lack the means to do so, with consequences for their life chances, including their right to education, work, water and sanitation, non-discrimination and gender equality, and ultimately to health. WHO salutes the grassroots workers and activists, particularly those from the Global South, who have been campaigning hard for menstrual health, and welcomes the inclusion of menstrual health on the Human Rights Council agenda.
WHO calls for menstrual health to be recognized, articulated and addressed as a health and human rights issue and not as a hygiene issue:
WHO calls for three actions. First, to recognize and classify menstruation as a health problem, not as a hygiene problem, but as a health problem with physical, psychological and social dimensions, to be addressed from a life-course perspective from pre-menarche to post-menopause. Second, to recognize that menstrual health means that women and girls and other people who menstruate have access to information and education about them; to the menstrual products they need; water, sanitation and disposal facilities; to competent and sensitive care when needed; to live, study and work in an environment where menstruation is seen as positive and healthy, something not to be ashamed of; and fully participate in work and social activities. Third, to ensure that these activities are included in the relevant sectoral work plans and budgets and that their performance is measured.
WHO recognizes that multiple sectors play an equally important role in promoting and protecting menstrual health and commits to stepping up efforts to encourage health policymakers and program managers to partner with these sectors to advance women’s rights, To support girls and others who are menstruating and meet their overall menstrual health needs, particularly in humanitarian contexts. WHO is also committed to breaking the silence and stigma surrounding menstruation and to aligning schools, health care facilities and other workplaces (including WHO workplaces) with menstruation.
Governments are beginning to act, but much more needs to be done.
Activists, including young people, and non-governmental organizations have done much to put menstrual health on the agenda. More and more governments are taking action. Some governments have eliminated taxes on menstrual products. Others have focused on the challenges school-age youth face when sourcing menstrual products. Still others have implemented strategies to provide menstrual products to populations in difficult circumstances, e.g.B. for the homeless or incarcerated. Finally, a handful of countries have introduced laws and policies for sick leave when pain, discomfort, and other menstrual-related symptoms and signs occur. These are useful steps, but governments could and should do more than improve access to menstrual products. They should design schools, workplaces and public institutions to support the handling of menstruation with comfort and dignity. More importantly, they should normalize menstruation and break the silence about it. Finally, in the context of events in Ethiopia, Ukraine and elsewhere, governments should pay attention to menstruation as part of a broader response to sexual and reproductive health among people displaced by war or natural disasters.
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