Gender and Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM)

In this issue: 

Women have a right to menstruate in dignity and to know about their own bodies. Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is a neglected women-specific sanitation need in its own right but can also act as a means of increasing girls’ school engagement and creating a foundation for good reproductive health choices throughout their lives.



May 2015
Issue number: 

Lack of support for Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is acting as a barrier to girls’ empowerment through an insidious impact on their ability to engage in education and make good decisions about their reproductive health. There is also systemic misinformation and stigma around women’s reproductive health ranging from doctors teaching that sex is the only cure for period pain to the belief that menstruating women are dirty and can contaminate others. This poor information environment is further disempowering due to a lack of affordable sanitary products, forcing girls to use unhygienic and inadequate alternatives like dirty rags and corn husks.

Through neglecting to act on this issue, international players working towards the realisation of women’s human rights fail to address a factor affecting their rights to basic sanitation, education and health. This neglect is symptomatic of a development paradigm that does not value women-specific experiences and which justifies investment in women through instrumental measures that reflect their utility to wider society, particularly via their role as mothers. It also reflects a development agenda that despite its best efforts is failing to hear the voices of the women and girls it serves.

Irise International, an innovative and fast growing organisation run by young professionals in Uganda and the UK, is dedicated to improving Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). It was founded in 2012 in response to the concerns of East African schoolgirls about the impact menstruation was having on their lives. 

Their survey of 1,906 girls across the Great Lakes Region suggest that issues around MHM are widespread:

  • Proportion of girls who report missing school because of menstruation: 50%
  • Mean days missed because of menstruation: 1.6
  • Range of days missed because of menstruation: 0-11
  • Proportion of girls using cloths/rags some or all of the time:68%
  • Proportion of girls who believe menstrual pain is a sign of illness: 52%

However despite these realities MHM remains a neglected issue. Irise works to develop a replicable and sustainable solution to MHM through setting-up local social enterprises producing reusable pads and delivering Menstrual Health Education (MHE). Social enterprises create flexible employment for women and MHE empowers girls to make choices about their own bodies.

Irise has developed and refined its model in response to research about girls’ needs and the effectiveness of programme interventions. The organisation now has a replicable and evidence-based model for delivering re-usable sanitary pads and menstrual health education to disadvantaged girls in rural communities in Uganda. To know more about Irise International and their work visit their website by clicking here

This Gender update is the result of BRIDGE and Irise International collaboration.


Supporting Resources: 

The following is a selection of key resources related to the topic of gender and Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) recently added to the BRIDGE global resources database.  

You can search for more resources on the BRIDGE website, including French and Spanish ones.

Menstrual Health Education Resource

This Menstrual Hygiene Toolkit is intended as a resource for delivering menstrual health education and is tailored to communities across East Africa. It is part of a set of rights-based, girl-positive menstrual and reproductive health resources.

Menstrual Hygiene Matters. Training guide for practitioners

This new training guide is the latest contribution to building the knowledge base around MHM and raising awareness of the issue globally. It seeks to support facilitators with tools to develop and facilitate sessions or workshops on MHM amongst development practitioners.

A vicious cycle of silence: the implications of the menstrual hygiene taboo for the realisation of the human rights of women and girls

This paper explores the implications of the menstruation taboo on the fulfilment of women and girls’ human rights and assesses the extent to which the menstruation taboo is addressed by international United Nations treaties and human rights bodies. It includes findings from a case study in Uganda.

Grow and Know

The Grow and Know programme aims to empower young girls and boys to reach their potential through improved education and preparation for life. It develops books for girls and boys that are grounded in the local social, cultural, and economic context, and that capture the real perspectives of young people growing up today. Initially targeted at Tanzanian boys and girls, it was then adapted for audiences in Cambodia, Ghana and Ethiopia.

Menstrupedia - Your guide to healthy periods

Menstrupedia aims to deliver informative and entertaining content through different media and to shatter myths and misunderstandings surrounding menstruation. It was developed in India by a team of communications professionals, artists, storytellers and medical professionals.

Hommage à la femme : la gestion de l’hygiène menstruelle. Briser le silence

L’hygiène menstruelle reste un sujet tabou. Les conventions internationales sur les droits reproductifs et sexuels ne les mentionnent pas explicitement. Même les secteurs tels que l’eau et l’assainissement ignorent la nécessité pour les femmes et les filles de disposer d’espaces surs pour gérer et éliminer les serviettes utilisées pour absorber le sang menstruel.
In the news: 



It is often assumed that fiscal policies and systems are ‘gender neutral’, but this is not the case.

The ways that governments allocate and spend public money, and the ways in which tax revenue is collected, have the potential to either exacerbate or challenge gender inequalities.

BRIDGE has published a new brief, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), which discusses the gender dimensions of both the design and implementation of fiscal policies. It examines how public money can be collected and used in more gender equitable ways.

The first part of the brief deals with taxation and expenditure policies, asking what tax and expenditure mixes are more likely to reduce inequalities. The second part deals with gender inclusive public finance management (PFM), considering how PFM reforms could integrate lessons from gender responsive budgeting (GRB) initiatives. It also makes suggestions on dealing with gendered barriers within taxation administration systems, and discusses the importance of including a range of actors in the processes of finance reforms, in order to strengthen efforts to make both policies and systems more gender equitable, and ultimately, gender transformative. The brief ends with a series of recommendations divided into the areas of policies, systems, evidence and actors.  

Read the full brief here.

Global news

Menstrual Hygiene Day

28 May is Menstrual Hygiene Day. Menstrual Hygiene Day serves as a neutral platform to bring together individuals, organisations, social businesses and the media to create a united and strong voice for women and girls around the world, helping to break the silence around menstrual hygiene management.

  • Menstrual Hygiene Day will help to address the challenges and hardships many women and girls face during their menstruation, but also to highlight the positive and innovative solutions being taken to address these challenges.
  • The day catalyses a growing, global movement that recognizes and supports girl’s and women’s rights and builds partnerships among those partners at national and local level.
  • It is an opportunity to engage in policy dialogue and actively advocate for the integration of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) into global, national and local policies, programmes and projects
  • It creates an occasion for media work, including social media.

To find out more about Menstrual Hygiene Day click here.

Irise initiatives during Menstrual Hygiene Day

Irise International is part of the global network of Menstrual Hygiene Day partners and on the national planning committees in Uganda and the UK. This year they will:

  • Participate in a national event in Kampala including workshops and a march through the centre of the city. This will accelerate efforts to develop a national MHM Charter and national policies. 
  • Train students from across Uganda (and from Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania) to deliver education and raise awareness in their local communities in partnership with local NGOs.
  • Launch an animation and online campaign with the hashtag #periodschangelives. You can watch it here.
  • Supporting two exciting UK events:
  1. Talk.Period, in Bristol. Talk.Period is a FREE event to get the Bristol public talking about menstruation. With a film screening of 'Menstrual Man' and an expert panel debate led by Rose George on menstrual waste, homelessness and period tax.  
  2. #periodpositive  in Sheffield. A collaboration between Friends of Irise, Sexpression and Period Positive, bringing you live comedy, drama workshops and craft activities designed to bust menstrual myths. 

Find an event in our area here.

Friends of Irise

Friends of Irise is a growing network of students committed to raising awareness of  the importance of educating girls worldwide and the significance of gender equality, both locally and globally. By educating and motivating people in the UK about ways to tackle the gender gap and working in partnership with students groups in East Africa, Friends of Irise believe that a real impact can be made worldwide. Friends of Irise aim to:

  • Raise awareness of the importance of achieving global gender equality
  • Teach in schools about these issues 
  • Fundraise for Irise International 

To connect with Friends of Irise, visit their Facebook page here