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Episode 011: WASH United and Menstrual Hygiene Day with Ina Jurga

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Ina Jurga is a menstrual health innovator and sanitation engineer specializing in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) development. She has led partnership-building and education projects for international NGO (and Days for Girls partner) WASH United since 2012, and serves as the international coordinator for Menstrual Hygiene Day. She is passionate about creating collective impact for menstruators on a global scale.

In this episode, Ina sits down with DfG to talk about her work with WASH United, the relationship between menstrual health and the SDGs, global gaps and advancements in MHH advocacy, and everything you need to know about the menstrual movement’s most important day of the year: Menstrual Hygiene Day).

Highlights:

  • The connection between WASH and MHH, and why WASH United started focusing on menstrual health management
  • Why menstrual health is relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals
  • How Ina was called to the menstrual health space as a sanitation civil engineer
  • Menstrual Hygiene Day: this year’s theme, focus and ways to get involved
  • WASH United’s advocacy efforts to raise awareness and funding for menstrual health issues
  • Ina’s assessment of MHH progress and gaps in countries around the world
  • All about the Period Tax Project: a free online resource for information about period taxes and campaigns around the world

Connect:

Ina

Menstrual Hygiene Day

Other Websites

Bio:

Ina Jurga has more than 15 years of experiences in development cooperation in the areas of WASH, and has worked for WASH United since 2012. WASH United is an international NGO based in Berlin, focusing on advocacy and education around water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and menstrual health & hygiene (MHH). She is the international coordinator for Menstrual Hygiene Day, which was initiated by WASH United in 2014, in addition to overseeing education projects.

Ina is a civil engineer by training, and also holds a recent degree in public policy. She has worked in a ran

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Transcript:

Jessica Williams  0:01
Welcome to the Days for Girls podcast, a show about breaking barriers for women and girls around the world. I’m your host, Jessica Williams, Chief Communications Officer at Days for Girls International. At Days for Girls, we believe in a world where periods are never a problem. We are on a mission to shatter the stigma and limitations associated with menstruation by increasing access to sustainable period products, and menstrual health education for all people with periods. Today’s guest is Ina Jurga. Ina has more than 15 years of experience in development cooperation in the areas of WASH, and has worked since 2012 for WASH United. WASH United is an international NGO based in Berlin, focusing on advocacy and education around water, sanitation, hygiene (WASH) and menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) and is also the international coordinator for Menstrual Hygeine Day, which was initiated by WASH United in 2014. She also oversees education projects, and is passionate about innovation and building partnerships to achieve collective impact. I’m so excited to share this episode with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Now, let’s go on to the show. Welcome to the show, Ina! it’s so great to have you here today.

Ina Jurga  1:20
Hello, Jessica. Yeah, my pleasure. Likewise. Great to talk to you.

Jessica Williams  1:25
And you are in Germany – Berlin, right?

Ina Jurga  1:28
Yes. I’m here in Berlin, Germany. And because that’s where our offices are from WASH United.

Jessica Williams  1:36
Awesome. Great. Well, I want to dive right in. So you have more than 15 years of experience and development coordination in the areas of WASH. And you’ve worked with WASH United since 2012. So for those who aren’t familiar with what WASH United does and focuses on, can you give us a little overview?

Ina Jurga  1:54
Yeah, sure. So WASH United. WASH stands for water, sanitation, and hygiene, but the organization is called WASH United. It’s a Berlin-based crossbreed between an advocacy NGO and a creative agency. Our mission is really to create a world in which all people benefit from good and safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene, including menstrual health and hygiene. We started out in 2011, focused a lot on WASH. But since 2012, we looked more and more into the issue of menstrual health and hygiene, which is now our major focus. Because we also initiated Menstrual Hygiene Day back in 2014. Besides the focus on advocacy, we also have education initiatives, where we develop solutions for taking up menstrual hygeine education for for partners. And in addition, we have a section that deals with human rights and water and sanitation, leading global level advocacy at the UN level and at national government levels. So yeah, everything evolves around advocacy and education, what we do.

Jessica Williams  3:20
Yeah, and so, you know, WASH United is one of our partners at Days for Girls, so we’re grateful for your partnership. And I want to get more into the connection of menstrual health and hygiene with WASH, and why those two often go hand in hand. Can you take us there?

Ina Jurga  3:39
The issue of sort of menstrual hygiene or menstrual health and hygiene or menstrual hygiene management as a term was called back in the early 2000s. That was a topic that came up in early 2010. Through the WASH sector, mainly because a few organizations who work on the issue of sanitation and hygiene around that with education, they started to notice that women and girls have specific needs when it comes to managing their menstruation. And with that following also, of course, toilet design, hygiene issues and education. And it was unearthed that it’s such a huge taboo issue that hardly anyone wanted to talk about. And therefore there was a lot of awareness-building, breaking the silence to do at the beginning for programs and then also policies to start up. Therefore, I think the reemergence of the issue came out of the wash WASH because of those reasons and a strong drive around equity and inclusion, to bring that issue under this umbrella. And interestingly enough, when I looked at Google terms, comparisons that determinants to health, has been quite prominently used already in the 1990s and the 2000s. And I think that came a little bit more from health perspective, meaning like the biological research around it, and not so much  all the different aspects a woman and girl does and has to have in order to manage menstruation.

Yeah, so just as a conclusion, the WASH sector was driving it in the last 10 years. But it’s good that more and more other sectors are coming in because it’s so cross-sectoral. And neither the WASH sector can do it alone, nor can the other sector do it. And everybody has it strengthens. It’s not as it’s really about cross-sectoral and intersectorial programming and policies, to really make sure that everyone who menstruates has the ability to manage menstruation with safety, dignity. And in privacy. And yeah, so I think when (sorry, when I talk too long, I get really passionate about it) when people think about WASH, they often think really about sanitation and hygiene. But I think with the WASH sector, having the opportunity to bring the issue into the Sustainable Development Goal discussion, they realized that needed a definition for the term what needs to be achieved, and they they made it already pretty broad, including, like, what was obvious was access to good infrastructure, access to information, but I think that what they also did was really to ensure that there’s access to products and access and to stop the discriminating social stigmas and norm around it. So yeah, so the definition of menstrual hygiene management back then was already a little bit broader than the narrow sense of water, sanitation, hygiene alone. Make sense?

Jessica Williams  7:28
That totally makes sense. And I love that you’re passionate about it. I enjoy that aspect. So I’m gonna just go back to something that you said. You mentioned the Sustainable Development Goals. And now we’re, you know, trying to integrate menstrual hygiene and health into those goals. For people who don’t know, can you explain what the Sustainable Development Goals are?

Ina Jurga  7:50
Yeah, so the Sustainable Development Goals are the UN level, global goals to achieve progress and prosperity for all people around the world. There are a couple of goals defined, which you can call…I don’t know the exact numbers. But what makes it so special is that they really look at equitable and inclusive access for all people. And not like before, just to say I have a certain number. So there are, for menstrual health and hygiene, there are a couple of Sustainable Development Goals that are relevant. For example, the Sustainable, the SDG for clean water and sanitation, the SDG on education, the SDG on… gender equality. There’s an SDG goal on sustainable production, which touches upon how we can make, for example, menstrual products more sustainable. So menstrual hygiene management touches upon (inaudible), so there’s no real indicator for menstrual health and hygiene. So they’re interlinked, but it’s not written as an indicator in the Sustainable Development Goals. But that’s what’s driving everyone working in the development field to achieve by 2030.

Jessica Williams  9:28
Awesome, thanks for that explanation. So I know a lot of us we want menstrual health and hygiene included in those Sustainable Development Goals. And there are areas in which in those goals that kind of touch on that aspect of of human rights. And so for those who are interested, we’ll put the link to this in the show notes to the Sustainable Development Goals that we’re talking about.

Ina Jurga  9:51
An awesome infographic that you can maybe want to link where we show how menstrual health and hygiene links to the development SDGs.

Jessica Williams  10:02
That’s a great graphic. I know, I’ve seen that. Yeah, we’ll definitely include that. So, you know, you have a background in public policy and civil engineering, but what makes you passionate about menstrual health? Is there some personal connection you have to the work?

Ina Jurga  10:16
Besides being a woman?

Jessica Williams  10:20
Yes, of course, right.

Ina Jurga  10:23
So when I started as a engineer, I was kind of a sanitation engineer building toilets, in developing countries – or not building, but networking and training others to build ecological toilets. And back then, there were some some linkages to blood because it was that you had to separate urine from pieces. And at one point, so what about the woman’s blood? Where does that go? And so okay, then it goes where the pieces go, and all good. And that was it. So later on, when I was then in my previous job, for the water supply, and sanitation collaborative council, that was a time in the early 2010s when the topic came up. And I realized that I never really thought as a woman, how I can consider women and girls needs better. So I was really ashamed myself that I had this blind spot, going to the field, bringing my tampons myself, and but never really thought what women and girls in the local villages use. So that made me really sad that I never really thought about it. And that was one of the motivations. I think I’m passionate because I think this was really an oversight on my end, and many of my colleagues too, I can say, in terms of personal experience, that was also, I think, you read a lot of reports and how the situation for women and girls in developing countries is, but when you are there yourself, and experience it, it makes it much more tangible.

For example, we did a campaign in India, called the [inaudible] Bagad Yatra. It was a moving Carnival, and I had to stay in a tent wth lots of Indian people, most of them were young men. And in the evening, I had to go to our toilet across the field. And it was so dark, I was getting really afraid. So suddenly, I got the feeling. How terrible it was to not have a toilet in your home, but you have to cross the field. And then secondly, I got my period. And there was no place where I could drop my tampon that I brought from Germany, because there was no basket and I couldn’t put it into the toilet because it was, I knew it was blocking it. So I had to kind of hide my bloody tampon somewhere in the public bin, and not making sure that all the young men see that I’m menstruating. And then, so back then really the topic came up. And we had this as an aspect in the Yatra. And then I really realized what a shameful process this is for many, many women and girls and how there are super easy solutions to be to be found. But also, of course, much more complex. But yeah, this was also one of the personal experiences that made me want to tackle this issue. Yeah,

Jessica Williams  13:47
I love that you shared that. And because every woman and girl who is menstruating or a menstruator can relate to that, that time where you don’t have a place to throw away your tampon and or you don’t have proper products available, or you want to hide it from people. Yeah. I’m so glad you shared that story. So in your work, I want to go more deeper into your work personally. So what is your like focus with WASH united? What are some of the projects that you’re currently working on?

Ina Jurga  14:26
A big focus is obviously, it’s Menstrual Hygiene Day, which is coming up on 28 May like every year in the last seven years. With that, we’ve really want to drive advocacy and awareness on the issue and our focus for this year, second year in a pandemic, is to really make sure to call out “it’s time for action.” And make sure that periods during and after the pandemics are getting the attention necessary and that we finally remove the period stigma and period poverty [inaudible]. So what we’re doing right now is of course, we plan for MH Day…because MH Day is mostly driven by your partners, such as you. And so we’re thinking what we can help partners to create their impact in the media and on the ground, with your partners, as well. So that is a lot of our focus right now.

Secondly, through MH Day and our partnerships, we do advocacy. And we do the advocacy all year round. For example, through the Global Medical Collective, which you invited to interview for the podcast, we’re looking ahead at key events for 2021, like the Generation Equality Forum, how we can engage there. And beyond that…so that’s the year round advocacy. On the second side, we are pretty busy on our education solutions. We are soon launching a site where we offer our menstrual hygiene management education guide, which is a really low cost scalable booklet, really easy to use, available for Africa and India. We’re going to release it finally to the public, where everyone who’s interested in education solutions can access it, register, download it for free, and receive some services like online capacity trainings, etc. So we’re in the last stages to finalize that website. There’s a lot of work in the background. So we’re really excited to launch it and then bring it on to the public. So yeah, these are the two are almost three points I’m pretty busy with the year round.

Jessica Williams  17:17
Awesome. So what are some of the countries that are making progress with WASH? Where is there still a lot of work to be done?

Ina Jurga  17:28
Um, yeah. So I think over the last seven years, with MH Day, we’ve seen interesting, like a general progression, that the issue is taking up more and more and more and more countries. And I think that’s a good thing overall. So, it is it is getting attention on all levels. So, in terms of countries, I think there are countries which are early go getters, and this, unfortunately, not the usual suspects, but I think these are countries who have good infrastructure, a very good political system and high interest to tackle those. And also a big support network of NGOs and private sector companies who work in these countries who are then also lifting up the issue higher – and these are like India, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Nepal. And then there are some countries who are quite active like Pakistan and Bangladesh and sometimes the Philippines and so on. So these are like stable countries with good progress. And then countries flip to aid from time to time. South Africa is also really active with launched a standard for menstrual products last year. On MH Day, Kenya launched their MH and Policy on MH Day last year. So yeah, also it’s good always every year to take stock and see what’s happening.

Where there are some blind spots is I would say is Francophone Africa. First of all, I think it’s a language issue. And there are not so many organizations working there. But there are some some good highlights. like Ghana is really active, and Senegal and Nigeria anyway. And the biggest gap is definitely Latin America. Where also it’s I think it’s a language barrier for non-Spanish speaking people to understand what’s happening and I know from from talks also we had last year, your team of colleagues from Guatemala and our live stream show and various consultations and Nilvia and all. I mean, when Nilvia says there’s such a huge need, but we sometimes don’t know about it. So I think there’s the silence within the taboo of menstruation. And we also need to make stronger effort in making sure those voices from Latin America and Francophone Africa and maybe from other countries with language barriers are heard and seen. So they’re also included into this.

So we recently launched a report – maybe you can also link this – it’s called “Making The Case For Investing in Mental Health and Hygiene.” WASH United coauthored this together with PSI Europe, The Case For Her, and it’s getting an overview on why it’s important to invest in the issue and how to do it. And we try to do a little bit of stocktaking where progress has been made. Not necessarily only on a country basis, but also within a domestic focus, where there are gaps, especially in terms of MHM in emergencies, MHM for disabilities, and so on. So there’s not only a geographical gap, but also, of course a thematic divide, where progress or not progress is happening. And yeah, with that, I think, overall, what is needed is definitely funding. We feel the funding is not adequate to the attention and interest of stakeholder to do programming and increase and scale programming, and projects on mental health and hygiene. There is, it’s really hard to to calculate what is currently spent, it’s even harder to calculate what is needed. But we can definitely say it’s it’s not enough. There needs to be more investment across sectors into the issue, including research to build evidence. And then investing in what works.

Jessica Williams  22:16
Yeah, I keep hearing that from everybody I interview: funding, funding, funding. On this, right, and that’s one of the reasons we launched this podcast was to draw more attention and awareness.

Ina Jurga  22:28
I think for MH Day, which is fantastic, we can see how collective impact can work. So for MH Day, all of our partners are pooling their resources together. So WASH United as a secretary doesn’t provide funding. So there’s a lot of possiblities when we pull together our existing resources, no matter how big or small they are, and then move to together. For example, MH Day is such an example, or the government’s collective where also everybody comes together. So there is a lot you can do creatively. But of course, you need funding for you, as I said, for our research to provide the evidence and learnings. And just simple programming also costs money. Luckily, there’s also some national governments were willing to invest like, for example, if India, Nigeria, Kenya has donation programs for schools, that also costs a lot of money. Or if taxes are dropped and removed, that also means the country has less tax income. And this is also kind of contribution. So there are ways for finding interesting funding models. But overall, it’s not sufficient to agree when it’s needed.

Jessica Williams  24:01
So one of the things that you’ve worked on is the Period Tax Project. And I know that that projects kind of wrapped up, but the website has a lot of really great resources and information. So I want to make sure I give you a chance to talk about that.

Ina Jurga  24:17
Yeah. So with the help of funding under the Innovation Fund from the Reproductive Health Supply Coalition, we build a one stop shop for everything around period taxes. Because that wasn’t existing before – like a global overview, how many countries have removed the tax or reduced the tax were active campaigns and what are learnings from campaigns like case studies, etc. And we have a lot of insights, like small nice videos on sharing learnings and tips on how to run successful period campaigns. For us, the most interesting learning in that process is that taxes…because a lot of people, for a lot of women and girls, menstrual products are unaffordable, and removing the taxes could be one way to make products cheaper, and with that a bit more affordable. But we found that this is not always the case. Dropping taxes doesn’t inevitably mean prices of products are dropped or reduced. There’s a lot of other conditions that need to be taken place. And I think that learning that we unearth from our research and our case study comparison, was super important to help future campaigns, to build campaigns better. And what I can say, lastly, is what we found, and this is the best news is that all period tax campaigns have managed to break the period stigma in every country. And it started a wider societal discussion around periods and menstruation period poverty, period stigma. And with that followed a lot of other policy changes, which is great. So period taxes can be an entry point into a wider discussion. So I think that’s the biggest best news, like we found from our deal with the issue. But yeah, the periodtax.org website is live, you can go there if you’re looking for information regarding period taxes in your country, or campaigns, and enjoy the resources that we provide.

Jessica Williams  26:50
Awesome, thank you. And for those who want to participate in Menstrual Hygiene Hay, can you tell them when that day is and how they can participate?

Ina Jurga  26:59
Yeah, very, very easy. And I would love to. So Menstrual Hygiene Day is on 28th of May, which is super easy to remember, because 28 is the average day of a cycle and five is the average day of the menstruation period. So 28/5, 28 May. So that’s easy. And if you work for an organization, please sign up to become an official partner. You can organize a local MH Day event online or offline and get super active on social media. We have always provided a range of free content, campaign materials and different languages for that. So that’s easy if you’re an individual or whoever you are. And I think the easiest way to show your support to menstrual hygiene day and beyond that, the issue of menstruation, is by making and wearing the menstruation bracelet. Which last year we established – and want to push even stronger – as the global symbol for menstruation. The menstruation bracelet consists of 28 elements, and 5 of them are red, they can also be pink or a different color. So 28/5, and by wearing the menstruation bracelet you can really show that periods are nothing to hide and stand up. And you can make a bracelet from beads. You can use papers, string, people painted with lipstick on their wrists, or people used pills and peas and whatever…You can just be creative. And if you’re not creative at all, you can use even pictures and animated GIFs. Take a picture posted online, use the hashtag #ItsTimeForAction on MH Day. And yeah, that’s it. So that’s as easy as that.

Jessica Williams  29:01
Thank you. And we’ll put all of those links in the show notes. And Ina, if people want to connect with you personally, where can they find you?

Ina Jurga  29:08
Besides in my home office?

Jessica Williams  29:14
Like on LinkedIn? Are you on Twitter?

Ina Jurga  29:17
I’m on LinkedIn. With my name. I’m happy to share the link that can connect me there. And the easiest way to shoot me an email is at ina@menstrualhygeineday.org. I think that’s the easiest to remember.

Awesome! And then of course, following Menstrual Hygiene Day  on Twitter and WASH United as as well.

So Menstrual Hygiene Day  is on all platforms – besides Tik Tok, noy mastering our dance skills yet. So yeah, we have a website, menstrualhygieneday.org, there is Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. We’re everywhere.

Jessica Williams  30:03
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate your time.

Ina Jurga  30:08
Yeah, thank you, Jessica. And if people have a follow up question, please let me know. And I really enjoyed being on a podcast. It was really fun.

Jessica Williams  30:17
Awesome, great. I’m so glad!

The Days for Girls podcast is produced by Days for GirlsInternational. For show notes and resources mentioned in this episode, visit daysforgirls.org/podcast.

If you’d like to support the work we do on the show, leave a rating or a review wherever you listen. Subscribe to the show and share episodes on social media or with your friends. To learn more about Days for Girls, and to join our global movement, please visit daysforgirls.org. Thank you for listening. See you next time.

Jessica Williams
Jessica Williams is Chief Communications Officer of Days for Girls International. She is also the host of The Days for Girls Podcast. Jessica holds a Bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University in Communications and a Master’s degree in Strategic Communications from The University of Oregon. She is also an adjunct instructor for the University of Portland’s Pamplin School of Business Nonprofit MBA program.