Defining Menstrual Health As A Social Justice Issue
Social justice is the buzzword of the moment. Through social media campaigns, investigative reporting, and community engagement platforms like GoFundMe, we have never been more aware of systemic inequities and injustices ranging from discrimination to violence.
In developed and developing countries alike, however, a persistent sense of secrecy, shame, and stigma are keeping menstrual health on the fringes of significant social justice discussions. Yet without honest conversations and a commitment to support research and development for this issue that affects half the population, we can't change the cycle of ignorance about menstruation and reproductive health, inadequate sanitation and disposal facilities for menstrual needs, and a dearth of affordable, sustainable menstrual care products.
No society has yet resolved its taboo treatment of menstruation. Learning about organizations like Days for Girls is just the beginning of understanding the magnitude of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) issues around the world.
What She Deserves
Defining MHM as a social justice issue that everyone has responsibility for can raise a lot of eyebrows in political, religious, and cultural spheres — but every girl deserves dignity, health, and opportunity. Acknowledging this can have profound effects on a community's willingness to commit resources to increasing access to menstrual care products, providing comprehensive health education, and reconsidering cultural norms around menstruation.
Days for Girls is among a growing number of nonprofits and social justice organizations committed to meeting the MHM needs of the world's most vulnerable women and girls, empowering them to succeed in school and in their communities. On the ground, local leaders like Kenya's Nice Leng’ete are rising up to challenge traditions that leave menstruating women and girls behind. Locally and globally, NGOs and government agencies focused on water sanitation, women's health, girl's education, and other related issues are beginning to expand their portfolios and talk more openly about this issue, too.
Through this combination of education, partnerships, philanthropy, and advocacy efforts, we are making progress on MHM — but we're just getting started.
The author during her visit to the United Nations Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland last year.
Making Periods Positive
We can take the first step to solving this global challenge by changing our beliefs about how menstruation should be cared for — and by whom. This involves challenging our own conscious or unconscious biases related to menstruation, including our reluctance to discuss it publicly and across gender lines. Girls and women, boys and men — we can all do our part to transform menstruation into a positive concept. We must also come to terms with menstrual inequities in our own backyards, including inadequate sanitation facilities and products available for homeless families and women in prison, in order to fully recognize every girl’s rights to dignity, health, and opportunity.
Reframing menstruation can be as personal as talking to yourself and your family about menstruation as just one of many natural body processes, or as public as lobbying for the removal of “luxury taxes” on feminine hygiene products.
Supporting organizations like Days for Girls can connect you to others who support MHM, while providing smart, sustainable solutions for menstrual inequity in developing countries. Regardless of your approach — personal or public — these actions can create a ripple effect that helps raise the profile of MHM as an international social justice issue that deserves attention. Together, we can create a world with dignity, health, and opportunity for all.
The time has come to add menstrual health to the list of significant social justice issues that can and should be addressed now. The more we raise our voices about MHM issues and needs, the closer we can come to reaching Every Girl. Everywhere. Period.
Genevieve Jesse is a senior at Seattle University, studying international relations and French.