A shared agenda has recently been published by a consortium of partners led by WaterAid and co-authored by International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), Marie Stopes International (MSI), and Simavi.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that address water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), health, and gender equality are interlinked and reliant on each other. Combining SRHR and WASH interventions creates opportunities to bolster health and human rights outcomes, but synergies between the two are not always prioritised, and integrated approaches are limited in both policy and practice. The agenda explores the links between WASH and SRHR in comprehensive and integrated policy and programming in low and middle-income countries.
Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) links WASH and SRHR as it is an important part of the reproductive health of women and girls. Clean water, adequate sanitation and good hygiene with which periods and fertility can be managed in safe, hygienic and dignified ways are shared goals between the two sectors.
The agenda acknowledges that existing MHM education programmes are not always perfect: “Programs that promote one type of product neglect the fact that women and girls are not a homogeneous group, and their needs and preferences vary. For example, in some contexts, tampons and menstrual cups may not be culturally accepted, and women and girls may face a greater risk of infection if they don’t know how to insert, or when to change these products, or if they do not wash their hands before doing so.”
However, it remains crucial to educate women and girls to reduce stigma and harmful MHM practices that prevent them from managing their periods in healthy and dignified ways. Often, sexual and reproductive health isn’t taught in schools until after girls have reached menarche. This leaves a missed opportunity to set important groundwork for the health and wellbeing of pubescent and pre-pubescent girls, which highlights how linking MHM and SRHR in this context can benefit not only women and girls but the educational programmes themselves.
In setting out five recommended courses of action on this shared agenda, the document specifically names menstrual hygiene management as a critical pathway to improving SRHR: “Partnerships between WASH and SRHR actors can help overcome challenges and improve the overall quality of existing programming. Addressing menstrual health as part of SRHR would strengthen comprehensive sexuality education and extend the reach of both menstrual hygiene knowledge and SRH information and services.”
Read more in the full document.