Period poverty in the Pacific: Exploring opportunities and barriers to progress menstrual health
WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone, everywhere has access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene, and these three areas are uniquely essential to the safe and respectful management of menstrual health. While menstruating is a natural biological process experienced by most women, girls and gender diverse people assigned female at birth, menstrual health remains largely neglected by policymakers, researchers, and practitioners in many WaSH contexts.
In honour of this year’s Menstrual Health Day on 28th May, WaterAid Australia have published “Period poverty in the Pacific: Exploring opportunities and barriers to progress menstrual health”, a report looking at the current state of menstrual health across the Pacific region, and presenting key findings and recommendations to progress it. We know that menstrual health is crucial in advancing health, education and employment for those who menstruate, as well as driving gender equality and inclusion, so the aim of this paper is to generate a shared understanding among institutions, private sector actors, researchers, and CSO’s of the key opportunities that exist to bring about improved menstrual health outcomes in five Pacific Island countries. Check out this short animated video we’ve created about periods in the Pacific.
To bring this report together, WaterAid partnered with a network of local Pacific menstrual health actors to collect data on the political economy drivers of menstrual health across five Pacific countries: Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. 39 experts across the region were interviewed and over 40 policies were reviewed. Each country was involved in developing a ‘menstrual health case study’ to identify drivers, progress and opportunities for menstrual health nationally. From there, the report came up with the following findings and recommendations.
- Policy progress towards menstrual health is predominantly school-focused. To date, national government policies aimed at improving menstrual health outcomes in the Pacific have predominantly focused on improving access to WASH in schools for girls.
- Menstrual health remains absent from national policy goals and targets. Beyond WASH in schools, menstrual health remains absent from other national policies, goals and targets.
- Humanitarian responses that addressed menstrual health have contributed to increased, longer-term menstrual health efforts. Menstrual health has been a growing focus in humanitarian response, with humanitarian actors increasingly providing dignity kits (including menstrual products) and focusing on access to WASH during emergency response.
- Harmful stigma towards menstrual health is gradually changing, but it remains persistent . Sociocultural factors shape the menstrual health experiences of people who menstruate in the Pacific.
- Women and girls with disabilities experience greater challenges within menstrual health. In Fiji, PNG, Samoa and Vanuatu evidence suggests that women and girls with disabilities experience greater challenges to managing their menstrual periods in comparison to their peers without disabilities
- The menstrual health needs and experiences of gender diverse people are unclear and generally overlooked. Very limited evidence is available about the menstrual health needs and experiences of gender diverse people in the Pacific. This may be a consequence of interventions generally only including the menstrual needs of cisgender women and girls who menstruate, and failing to consider that menstruation is experienced by others assigned female at birth who do not necessary identify as girl or women.
- Access to menstrual hygiene products needs to be scaled and diversified. One focus area of interventions to improve menstrual health has been increasing the availability of safe, sustainable menstrual hygiene products. While these efforts are valuable, challenges remain in accessing menstrual hygiene products due to cost (particularly for low-income families); location (in rural/remove areas) and shame and stigma (which discourages people from purchasing products
- Menstrual health-friendly water, sanitation and hygiene access remains a critical barrier to meeting practical menstrual health needs. Access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools, workplaces and other public spaces continue to be commonly inadequate to meet the needs of girls, women and people who menstruate in the Pacific.
- Strengthen menstrual health leadership and policies
- Continue to progress school-based education, and expand to improve menstrual health knowledge, tackle stigma, taboo and misinformation
- Strengthen supply and access to menstrual materials: Continue efforts to strengthen supply chains; investigate and remove taxes; regulate importation and sales.
- Ensure menstrual health initiatives actively target people with disabilities and people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identities and expressions and sex characteristics (SOGESIC)
- Expand MH-friendly WASH services beyond schools to other settings
- Strengthen Pacific menstrual health monitoring systems
WaterAid acknowledges the support of the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) for the Pacific Menstrual Health Network.