Menstrual Hygiene Day: Toilets are just one step towards global menstrual heath management
May 28 is Menstrual Hygiene Day, a global day highlighting the importance of menstrual health and advocating for the rights and well-being of menstruating people everywhere.
Menstrual health is essential to gender equality and the well-being of everyone who menstruates. Despite this, adolescent girls, women and gender-diverse people who menstruate often experience fear, shame and discrimination, as well as practical challenges such as lack of water, safe toilets, menstrual products, and health services to manage menstruation.
On WaterAid’s most recent visit to Timor-Leste, we visited a community where we had recently constructed new inclusive toilets for the schools.
"I felt scared because I didn’t know what it was."
This is 17-year-old Octavia, a year 10 student at the Escola CAFÉ school in Liquica, Timor-Leste.
Octavia was 12 years old when she got her first period and now at 17, gender-inclusive toilet blocks have only recently been installed at her school.
Octavia describes the old toilets as difficult for girls when they had their period because they didn’t know where to put their pads.
"Sometimes I felt scared so I decided to go back home,” said Octavia.
Before the new toilets were built, Octavia often went home to change her sanitary pad, a 20-minute round trip by bus. Octavia would often miss class when she did this.
Octavia says she feels more comfortable having her period at school since the new toilets were installed.
“I’m really happy for the new toilets because it really helps us when we get our period because we can put our pad in the incinerator. There are soap and sinks in the new toilets for handwashing. “
Mana Maria, Octavia’s mother, echoed the importance of the new toilets.
“It is really important to have a good toilet at school so it can help students when they have their period so they don’t have to go back home to change their pad or their clothes.
"Because the distance between school and home is far and they have to go by public transport, so it needs time and sometimes they have to miss some subjects in school. So, they really need a good and inclusive toilet at school, it is really important”.
However, a decent toilet is just one step towards menstrual health management. There are five key requirements to achieving menstrual health, which implies that everyone who menstruates, throughout their life, has the following requirements fulfilled:
- Access to information and education: They are able to access accurate, timely, age-appropriate information about the menstrual cycle, menstruation and changes experienced throughout the life course, as well as related self-care and hygiene practices.
- Access to materials, facilities and services: They are able to care for their bodies during menstruation such that their preferences, hygiene, comfort, privacy and safety are supported.
- Non-discrimination and participation: They are able to decide whether and how to participate in all spheres of life, including civil, cultural, economic, social and political, during all phases of the menstrual cycle, free from menstruation-related exclusion, restriction, discrimination, coercion and/or violence.
- Supportive social environment: They experience a positive and respectful environment in relation to the menstrual cycle, free from stigma and psychological distress, including the resources and support they need to care for their bodies confidently and make informed decisions about self-care throughout their menstrual cycle.
- Care for discomfort and disorders: They are able to access timely diagnosis, treatment and care for menstrual cycle-related discomfort and conditions, including access to appropriate health services and resources, pain relief and strategies for self-care.
WaterAid's work in menstrual health has been instrumental in changing the lives of menstruating people worldwide. By addressing the many different challenges surrounding menstrual hygiene, we continue to champion the rights of women and girls, help shattered taboos and improve access to essential resources.
You can read about WaterAid’s latest work around Menstrual Health Management in the Pacific and East Asia region in our joint report with UNICEF and the Burnet Institute