Launch of ‘The Last Taboo’: formative research shining a light on menstrual hygiene challenges in the Pacific

3 min read
Piece of cloth, napkin, gauze etc. are some of the things women use to manage their periods

In collaboration with the Burnet Institute and the International Women’s Development Agency, WaterAid Australia has just been involved in a landmark study uncovering issues that prevent adolescent girls and women in the Pacific from managing their menstruation hygienically, effectively and with dignity.

Commissioned and funded by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade ‘The Last Taboo’ is the first multi-country study of menstrual hygiene in the Pacific. Research took place in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands across 2016 and 2017. The partnership model involved in the study leverages the multi-sectoral expertise of the organisations involved to address a complex issue.

Drawing of toilets

As part of the research, workshops were held in each of the three Pacific countries, as well as one in Australia, to turn the findings into program approaches. The workshops brought together experts working on gender, health, education and water, sanitation and hygiene to generate action and interest. 

Piece of cloth, napkin, gauze etc. are some of the things women use to manage their periods

Most importantly, the voices of women and girls were central to the study. They were asked to share challenges they face, but also to share their preferences for sanitary products and their aspirations for how they want to be able to manage their menstrual hygiene.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Many adolescent girls in the Solomon Islands and PNG lack comprehensive knowledge about menstruation and are unprepared for their first period. This often results in feelings of shame and embarrassment for girls.
  • In all countries, education and information frequently excludes women and girls with disabilities. There is also often a generational gap in awareness, as older woman may have missed out on receiving education about menstruation while they were in school.
  • Access to, and availability of sanitary products has huge impacts. Without sanitary products, women and girls’ common fear of leakage and staining, distracts them from school or work. Women and girls that are unable to effectively manage their bleeding may disengage with community life, stay home from school, or miss.
  • In the Solomon Islands and PNG, water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools and workplaces (particularly informal work settings such as markets) are commonly inadequate to meet the needs of menstruating girls and women. Challenges such as non-functioning toilets and showers, lack of safe disposal options for used sanitary items, and a lack of soap and water for handwashing and personal hygiene contribute to unhygienic menstrual management practices, extended uncomfortable delays in changing materials, or absenteeism from school or work to return home to manage menstruation.
  • Women employed in informal workplaces, such as market vendors, face greater challenges in managing their menstruation at work as they are often required to share facilities with the general public. In addition, facilities are sometimes locked, unclean, require a user fee, and do not provide toilet paper or a safe and discrete disposal system.

This study has filled a gap in knowledge around a little spoken about issue. It provides clear evidence of the challenges women and girls in the Pacific face in managing their menstruation, while also providing practical recommendations so organisations and governments in the Pacific can act to address the challenges identified.

Most importantly it recognises that women and girls must be central to any solutions developed to help them better manage their menstruation with dignity, hygienically and effectively.

To download the report, click here.


Use toilet as at home