How women around the world manage their menstrual period

on
15 April 2019
Sanitary pads from across the world

From menstrual cup to cloth, menstruation skirt or homemade sanitary pad, a new photo gallery from WaterAid highlights the many and varied ways in which women around the world manage their periods.

Millions of women and girls menstruate every month, yet governments across the world continue to ignore the issue and its associated links to women’s health, economic and social wellbeing. Battling the stigma that continues to surround periods, women around the world look for their own solutions around disposal, pricing, health and comfort. 

No woman or girl should have to manage their period without access to the sanitary product of their choice. Governments should play an active role in providing the infrastructure and knowledge needed to support this right.

At a minimum, women everywhere need clean water for washing themselves and any reusable sanitary materials, decent private toilets that give them the space, privacy, as well as access to adequate and acceptable sanitary products and disposal methods. Yet, 1 in 9 people don’t have clean water close to home, while 1 in 3 don't have a decent toilet of their own.

Without these services, menstruation can affect women’s health and involvement in social and economic life, and thus their opportunities.

View some of the surprising ways women manage their period (best viewable on mobile):

Within the communities that WaterAid works, we talked to women about their periods. The result is a revealing snapshot of traditions passed on from mother to daughter, as well as women’s own, often innovative, solutions.

In Uganda, Lepera Joyce uses an animal skin ‘menstruation skirt’ when she is on her period. In Nepal, Sangita makes her own sanitary pads. Meanwhile in Australia, Steph can get pads and tampons from the supermarket but is also able to manage her menstrual cycle by using an IUD (a Mirena).

In many countries, cloth is the go-to material for women, which helps to tackle disposal issues in places where facilities are lacking. The environmental impact of disposable sanitary pads is huge. For example, in India, there are about 121 million women of reproductive age; if all of them use just eight sanitary pads a month, this amounts to 12 billion pads annually.

Chelsea Huggett, WaterAid Australia's Technical Lead in Equality and Rights, said:

“Menstrual health is fundamental to achieving gender equality and to improving the lives of women and girls all over the world. Despite this normal bodily function, which is generally a sign of good health, women and girls feel ashamed and have difficulties managing their bleeding each month. We are expected to keep it a secret, and in many countries women may not even have proper water to bathe, nowhere to throw away used pads and no options for pain management. For an adolescent girl, she may be afraid to go to school because she doesn’t have a pad or anywhere to change it.  

It’s time we normalised talking about menstrual health and hygiene. Breaking the taboo on menstruation with girls and boys can normalise other taboo conversations about relationships, our bodies and sex.”

WaterAid work in some of the hardest to reach places in the world to provide appropriate sanitation facilities and menstrual hygiene skills and education to those women and girls who need it.

View more photos at Refinery29