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Menstrual hygiene: a ‘silent’ need during disaster recovery

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Post-disaster relief and recovery operations seldom focus on women’s priorities regarding menstrual hygiene. There is an increasing awareness to incorporate inclusive, participatory, and gender-sensitive strategies for implementation of response programmes. This article presents empirical findings related to menstrual hygiene management (MHM), demonstrating it is integral to women’s privacy and safety during recovery. Using case studies from India, the 2012 Assam floods and 2013 Cyclone Phailin in Odisha, this article explores menstrual hygiene practices in a post-disaster context. The data were collected through participatory learning and action tools such as focus group discussions, household interviews, priority ranking, and observations. It emerged that menstrual hygiene was overlooked at the household level during recovery; women and adolescent girls faced seclusion and isolation, exacerbating privacy and security concerns post-disasters. Some humanitarian agencies have an ad hoc approach towards MHM, which is limited to distribution of sanitary pads and does not address the socio-cultural practices around MHM. There is a need for strategic planning to address MHM with a gender-sensitive and inclusive approach. This article draws practical and policy inferences from the research for stronger approaches towards initiating behaviour change in MHM, and addressing attitudes and knowledge regarding menstrual hygiene.

Waterlines article by Sneha Krishnan and John Twigg, 25th July 2016

Date: 22 May 2017