WHO Statement on Menstrual Health and Rights

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Menstrual health is firmly on the global agenda today.

Menstrual health was not on the agenda of the International Conference on Population and Development or the Millennium Declaration. Nor is it explicitly stated in the Sustainable Development Goal targets for Goals 3 (health), 5 (gender equality) or 6 (water and sanitation). However, it has been placed on the global health, education, human rights and gender equality/equity agenda by grassroots workers and activists in the South, attracting attention to reports of shame and embarrassment among women and girls, and the barriers they face in managing their period because they cannot afford it, with consequences for their life opportunities, including their rights to education, work, water and sanitation, non-discrimination and gender equality – and ultimately to health. WHO commends grassroots workers and activists, especially those in the South, who have been strong advocates for menstrual health, and welcomes the inclusion of menstrual health on the agenda of the Human Rights Council man.

WHO calls for menstrual health to be recognized, framed and treated as a health and human rights issue, not a hygiene issue:

The WHO calls for three actions. First, recognize and frame menstruation as a health problem, not a hygiene problem – a health problem with physical, psychological and social dimensions, and which must be approached from a life course perspective – d from before menarche to after menopause. Second, to recognize that menstrual health means that women and girls and others who menstruate have access to information and education about it; the menstrual products they need; water supply, sewage and disposal facilities; competent and empathetic care when needed; live, study and work in an environment in which menstruation is seen as positive and healthy and not as a shame; and participate fully in work and social activities. Third, ensure that these activities are included in relevant sector work plans and budgets and that their performance is measured.

WHO recognizes that multiple sectors have equally important roles to play in promoting and safeguarding menstrual health and is committed to intensifying its efforts to encourage policy makers and health program managers to engage with these sectors to promote the rights of women, girls and other menstruating people. and meet their comprehensive menstrual health needs, especially in humanitarian settings. WHO is also committed to breaking the silence and stigma associated with menstruation and to making schools, health care facilities and other workplaces (including WHO workplaces) menstruation friendly.

Governments are beginning to act, but they need to do much more.

Activists – including young people – and nongovernmental organizations have done much to put menstrual health on the agenda. A growing number of governments are taking action. Some governments have removed taxes on menstrual products. Others have focused on the difficulties faced by school-going adolescents in obtaining menstrual products. Still others have implemented strategies to provide menstrual products to populations in difficult circumstances, for example the homeless or the incarcerated. Finally, a handful of countries have medical leave laws and policies in place when a person experiences pain, discomfort, and other symptoms and signs related to menstruation. These are helpful measures, but governments could and should do more than improve access to menstrual products. They should ensure that schools, workplaces and public institutions support menstruation management with comfort and dignity. Most importantly, they should normalize menstruation and break the silence around them. Finally, in the context of what is happening in Ethiopia, Ukraine and elsewhere, governments should pay attention to menstruation as part of a broader sexual and reproductive health response among people displaced by war or natural disasters.

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