Global Resources

Taking the bloody linen out of the closet: menstrual hygiene as a priority for achieving gender equality

Author: I.T. Winkler, V. Roaf
Publication Date: Mar 2015

How can the framework of human rights and substantive equality contribute to giving menstrual hygiene greater visibility and the prioritisation of appropriate strategies and solutions? Against the background of gender stereotypes linked to menstruation and the low priority that policy makers accord to menstrual hygiene this paper explores challenges in managing menstruation at the practical and policy level and examines how menstrual hygiene is situated in the human rights framework, in particular gender equality. The lack of adequate facilities for the management of menstrual hygiene raises issues for women’s right to privacy, human dignity, gender equality, and for non-discrimination and equality more broadly. Lack of adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene also has negative impacts on the right to education, the right to work, and the right to health. The contribution of the human rights framework lies in drawing attention to the plight of women and girls who are not able to manage their menstruation adequately by highlighting State and other actors’ obligations and responsibilities with respect to menstrual hygiene. The framework of human rights and substantive equality requires guaranteeing women the exercise of human rights on the basis of equality. Any practice that enables stigma and discrimination against women blocks equality and must be replaced with a practice that promotes human rights. In the case of poor menstrual hygiene, cultural, social, or religious practices that limit menstruating women and girls’ capacity to work, to get an education, or to engage in society must be eradicated. Recommendations include that states fulfil their obligation to create enabling environments for women to manage menstruation adequately, for instance in schools, accord greater priority to menstruation at the level of policies and programming and cease using the male default body in planning and designing measures in the area of WASH, education, and other policy-fields.