Better toilets, accurate information about periods crucial to keeping girls in school

5 min read
Image: WaterAid/Kate Holt

Around the world, one in three girls face inadequate toilets, and many others face social and cultural limits when they have their periods. WaterAid encourages governments around the world to prioritise better toilets and washing facilities in schools, and to provide accurate information around menstruation, to ensure girls’ rights to education and equality.

To address the lack of accurate information and to remove the stigma and taboos surrounding periods globally, for this Menstrual Hygiene Day (28 May), WaterAid asked women from India, Japan, Madagascar, Nepal, Nigeria and Pakistan to film themselves breaking a period myth such as touching animals (Nepal), using the front door (Madagascar) and holding your baby (Nigeria).

Watch WaterAid’s film below to see the rule-breaking women:

Globally, about half of women and girls, or around a quarter of the world’s population, are of reproductive age; most of them will menstruate every month. Girls often turn to their mothers and teachers for support about periods, but they too may perpetuate myths if they lack accurate information themselves. It’s important to break this cycle with open conversations so that periods are seen as healthy and normal.

This Menstrual Hygiene Day, WaterAid calls on women and men around the world to talk about periods and be #PeriodProud, to challenge the myths and taboos surrounding menstruation that prevent women from reaching their full potential.

The call comes as nations prepare for a July 2018 review of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6, to deliver water and sanitation to everyone, everywhere by 2030, which is expected to show that progress on sanitation is far behind.

WaterAid Australia Chief Executive Rosie Wheen said:

“Girls have a right to education, which is lost if they feel unable to attend lessons because of a lack of sanitary products or clean, private toilets at school. Governments need to ensure that every school has clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene.

“Better facilities in schools will not only help towards the global promise of universal access to clean water, but are also essential for achieving other Sustainable Development Goals on quality education, gender equality and good health and well-being.”

New research released by WaterAid shows a lack of period knowledge in girls and women - 1 in 8 women didn’t know about periods until they started menstruating, while a worrying number still believe myths like you shouldn’t exercise and cannot get pregnant while on your period.

WaterAid asked more than 1,000 women aged 16 and over from across the United Kingdom about their menstruation knowledge, to mark Menstrual Hygiene Day.

According to WaterAid’s survey, certain myths still remain, with nearly 1 in 10 women (8.9%) believing you should not play sports while on your period, and about 17% of women think you can’t get pregnant while on your period. The widely believed yet scientifically dismissed myth that women who spend a lot of time together synchronise periods was believed by more than half of respondents.

Feelings toward periods are by no means positive among a large number of women, with 31% saying they feel inconvenienced every month and just over a quarter (26%) going to school or work worried they might leak. As many as 22% of women even dread their period each month.

A huge number of women reported that they avoid swimming during their periods (49%), and 2 out of 5 (39%) avoid wearing certain clothes.

About a third of women would not feel comfortable talking about their menstrual cycle at all with anyone. As a clear illustration of the taboos that still surround periods, more than 1 in 5 women in a relationship feel uncomfortable talking to their partner about period pain (22%), PMT (23%) or their period flow (25%).

Many women still receive derogatory comments related to their periods, with the most common remark being told they must have PMT when considered to be moody (35%) topping the list.

About half of the women said that to address the stigma attached to periods, information and education about periods needs to be improved, also for men and boys – and open discussion about the issue should be encouraged. More honest advertising of feminine hygiene products was seen as an important issue by 40%.

A new WaterAid-Unicef report shows that also in South Asia, where schools are making progress in providing decent toilets and menstrual hygiene to their students, work remains to be done as up to two-thirds of girls in the region do not know about menstruation before starting their periods, and as many as 1 in 3 missing school days every month.

WaterAid Australia Chief Executive Rosie Wheen said:

“Until we remove the stigma and shame around periods, women and girls wherever they happen to live will not be able to get the facilities and support they need to be able to deal with what is a normal part of life with dignity and confidence. Too many women and girls face a struggle to deal with their periods because they are unable to voice their needs and concerns.

“Our embarrassment is contributing to a situation where millions of girls do not know how to manage their period hygienically, and for the one in three globally lacking access to a decent toilet, every month becomes a challenge. Without decent sanitation facilities, many girls miss school or drop out altogether when they reach adolescence, and in some parts of the world, they are restricted from everyday activities like eating with the family and even looking in the mirror."


Join WaterAid and Marie Stopes International Australia for an interactive panel discussion asking “What joint action is required to address menstrual health in Southeast Asia and the Pacific?” on 28 May 2018 at 6pm at The Cluster, Level 21, 31 Queen Street, Melbourne.

Four panel members from the water, sanitation and hygiene, and reproductive sectors from Timor-Leste, Australia and Papua New Guinea will discuss the panel question.