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Improving Access to WASH: A Key Step for Effective Menstrual Hygiene Management

Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1.9 billion women are of reproductive age, representing 26% of the world population. Most of these women and girls menstruate each month for between two and seven days.

As we mark ten years of celebrating Menstrual Hygiene Day, it’s time to reflect on our progress. While there is gratitude for the growing recognition of menstruation as a natural phenomenon—exemplified by the Ghanaian government’s decision to remove taxes on raw materials for producing sanitary pads locally—many challenges still hinder effective menstrual hygiene management for women and girls.

According to the World Bank, poor menstrual hygiene, caused by a lack of education, persisting taboos and stigma, limited access to hygienic menstrual products, and inadequate sanitation infrastructure, undermines educational opportunities, health, and the overall social status of women and girls globally. This situation not only affects their individual lives but also hampers societal development by perpetuating gender inequalities and restricting economic and social progress.

Menstruation is a natural process; however, if not properly managed, it can lead to health problems. Poor menstrual hygiene significantly impacts the psychosocial well-being of women and girls, causing increased stress levels, fear and embarrassment, and social exclusion during menstruation.

In many parts of Ghana, adolescent girls and women face significant challenges in managing menstrual hygiene with dignity due to inadequate Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) facilities and a lack of awareness among employers, institutions, and lawmakers. This is evident in the construction and maintenance of public and private spaces, including schools, healthcare facilities, and public places, which often do not cater to the specific needs of menstruating individuals.

Many schools lack adequate WASH facilities, making it difficult for girls to manage their periods hygienically, leading to absenteeism and dropout rates. UNICEF reports that about 90% of girls in rural areas of Ghana miss school during their menstrual periods due to various challenges, including the lack of sanitary products and insufficient clean and functional facilities for managing their periods.

Even healthcare settings sometimes fail to provide the necessary amenities for menstrual hygiene, which is critical for both patients and staff. Public places like markets, transportation hubs, and some homes lack private, clean, and functional bathrooms, which are essential for maintaining menstrual hygiene.

Stakeholders advocating for menstrual hygiene management must emphasize the crucial role of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH). To manage menstruation hygienically and with dignity, women and girls must have access to:

  • A private place to change sanitary pads and reusable cloths
  • Clean water and soap for washing their hands, bodies, and reusable cloths
  • Facilities for safely disposing of used materials or a clean place to dry them if reusable

Recommendations

As we celebrate a decade of spotlighting menstrual hygiene, it is crucial to remind ourselves that we can contribute to improving menstrual hygiene management in small but significant ways. Fathers should make a conscious effort to buy pads monthly for their adolescents. Husbands should ensure they provide sanitary products for their wives, especially stay-at-home mothers who do not have other means of livelihood. By doing these small things, we can support women and girls in managing their periods more effectively.

The government must continue to support local manufacturers beyond removing taxes and address distribution costs. More importantly, the government and other stakeholders must improve WASH facilities, especially in hard-to-reach communities. Investing in gender-responsive WASH facilities and ensuring accessible and functional WASH facilities in schools, healthcare settings, and public places are vital steps towards achieving menstrual equity and improving the lives of women and girls in Ghana.

We envision a world where menstruation is a normal fact of life and where our leaders are committed to working “Together for a #PeriodFriendlyWorld.” We aim for a world with no period poverty for everyone by 2030.

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