New definition of Menstrual Health set to galvanise action to meet the needs of people who menstruate

Posted by
Laura Crowley
27 May 2021
WaterAid/ Eliza Powell

WaterAid has joined a team of experts from around the world to establish a definition of menstrual health that comprehensively addresses the needs of people who menstruate to advance gender equality and global health.

Despite increased global attention on period poverty, up until now there has been no universal agreement on the definition of menstrual health, which has diluted advocacy efforts and led to fragmented action. It’s hoped having a new definition will provide a common language, harmonise approaches and unite efforts to support the range of menstrual needs.

Recently published in the journal Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, menstrual health is defined as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle.”

The new definition, launching ahead of Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May and brought together by the Global Menstrual Collective is grounded in the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of health, and sets out clear requirements for achieving menstrual health.

These include access to clean water, good sanitation and hygiene, access to information about the menstrual cycle and self-care, materials, timely diagnosis and treatment for menstrual disorders and discomforts, and a positive and respectful environment and the freedom to participate in all spheres of life throughout the menstrual cycle.

The definition also emphasises that whilst the majority of those who experience a menstrual cycle are women and girls, menstrual health is essential for all those who experience a menstrual cycle, regardless of their gender identity and the context in which they live.

Senior author Thérèse Mahon, Regional Programme Manager South Asia at WaterAid said:

“By defining menstrual health holistically, we aim to bring together stakeholders and help ensure menstrual needs are prioritised by all responsible. As we’re starting to see UK aid cuts around programmes addressing water and sanitation, sexual and reproductive health and girls’ education, it’s never been more important for governments to reaffirm their commitments to gender equality and to take action.

”Large-scale investment is needed to improve menstrual health as well as water and sanitation provision but co-ordination is needed across sectors. Adopting this new definition and a shared vocabulary will improve collaboration and investment in sexual and reproductive health, gender, education, water, sanitation and hygiene to ensure no one is held back because of their period.”

Currently 1 in 4 people do not have access to a decent toilet making it hard for those who menstruate to manage their period safely and hygienically, while shame surrounding periods means many often do not get accurate information about menstrual health. This in turn impacts on public health and gender equality. Without decent toilets in schools, girls often miss outs on their education during their period; in South Asia, as many as 1 in 3 girls miss school days during their period.

WaterAid works across the world to improve access to clean water, decent sanitation, and good hygiene while calling for these basic resources to be prioritised.


Notes to journalists: the paper is available at

The paper is entitled: “Menstrual Health: A definition for policy, practice and research”

*Citation: Hennegan, J., Winkler, I.T., Bobel, C., Keiser, D., Hampton, J., Larsson, G., Chandra-Mouli, V., Plesons, M., & Mahon, T. (2021) Menstrual Health: A Definition for Policy, Practice, and Research. Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters.

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Notes to Editors:

WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 27 million people with clean water and 27 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidUK or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at

[2] Prüss-Ustün et al. (2014) and The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2018)

[3] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage


  • 785 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.[1]
  • 2 billion people in the world – almost one in four – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[1]
  • Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's around 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[2]
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[3]
  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[4]