Every month, 1.8 billion people across the world have a period – but millions have to manage theirs without clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene knowledge.
Dirty, broken toilets that don’t lock properly. No running water, or places to wash in privacy. Dangerous misinformation and stigmas that keep menstruation shrouded in shame and secrecy.
All these things don't just cause someone humiliation, they’re unsafe and can have far-reaching impacts that put women and girls at a disadvantage throughout their lives. Many women and girls around world simply have no choice but to stay home every month while menstruating, missing out on vital opportunities to go to school, earn a living, and take control of their futures.
Keeping girls in the classroom
A combination of shame, limited access to products, and a lack of decent toilets can force girls to miss school when they have their period – causing them to fall further and further behind in their classes, and sometimes dropping out entirely.
Meet Rihanata, Pushpa, and Twiringiyimana – three girls who aren't letting periods hold them back in school:
“I haven't had my period yet, but I feel prepared for it. I know what to do. And I know I can talk about it and share what I've learned with others.”
Our work in ten-year-old Rihanata’s school in the Cascades region of Burkina Faso isn’t just focused on refurbishing the toilets, installing handwashing facilities, and building a menstrual hygiene management cabin.
Together with our local partners, we’ve also trained teachers in MHM and reproductive health, and helped to set up student-led hygiene and sanitation clubs – of which ten-year-old Rihanata is vice-president.
Now, Rihanata’s learned what to expect when her period starts – and she knows it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
"Previously, the girls never talked about menstruation. Most of them didn't come to school during menstruation and if the menstruation occurred they returned home, but the scenario is completely different these days."
Until recently, many girls at 16-year-old Pushpa’s school in Siraha, Nepal, would stay home when they had their period, missing up to a week’s worth of lessons every month.
But with new toilets, clean water on tap, and a menstrual hygiene room, girls can manage their periods without interrupting their learning.
The transformation hasn't just been material: now students – girls and boys alike – understand that menstruation is a natural process and speak about it openly.
“When I start my period while at school, I go to our new menstrual hygiene management room, where I find emergency pads, water, soap, and a shower room.”
As a member of her school’s hygiene club in Nyamagabe, Rwanda, 16-year-old Twiringiyimana isn’t afraid to talk openly with her classmates and teachers about periods.
We worked with the Rwandan government to build a rainwater harvesting tank and create a dedicated menstrual hygiene management room at Twiringiyimana’s school.
Girls can use the menstrual hygiene management facilities and water supply to keep themselves clean. They can speak to the specially-trained teacher mentor – or to each other – whenever they need support.
Developing skills – and self-confidence
Over a two-day training course run by our local partner in Kavre, Nepal, Sangita learned how to make reusable cotton sanitary pads, as well as how to stay healthy while on her period.
The homemade pads are more hygienic than using old pieces of cloth, and cheaper than buying disposable ones. And, especially important in a district struggling to manage its solid waste effectively, they don’t risk polluting local water sources.
For Sangita, though, the benefits don’t end there.
A few months after the initial session, she was invited to share her knowledge with another group, giving her the opportunity to connect with more local women. And, after making a name for herself, she completed a large commercial order – something she plans to pursue as a part-time job once her children are in school.
Supporting young people with disabilities
People with disabilities, like Meena, often face extra challenges and discrimination when they're menstruating. Our project in Nepal helped young people with learning disabilities develop their self-confidence and understanding of how to manage their periods safely.
Your support can help us reach more people with the clean water, decent toilets, and good hygiene they need to manage their periods safely and with dignity.
HerWASH: Menstrual Health and Sexual and Reproductive Health
Learn more about HerWASH, a four-year program focused on improving menstrual health and hygiene for women and girls in Burkina Faso, Liberia, Pakistan, and Sierra Leone.
Explore research, guidance, and expert-led insights into water, sanitation and menstrual hygiene on our policy and practice site.