As governments fail to prioritise periods, women take the lead in finding ways to manage their monthly flow

Posted by
8 April 2019
Periods, Girls and women
WaterAid/Mani Karmacharya

Link to photos

From menstrual cup to cloth, menstruation skirt or homemade sanitary pad, a new photo gallery from WaterAid highlights the many and varied ways in which women around the world manage their periods.

Millions of women and girls menstruate every month, yet governments continue to ignore the issue and its associated links to women’s health, economic and social wellbeing. Battling the stigma that continues to surround periods, women around the world look for their own solutions around disposal, pricing, health and comfort.  

No woman or girl should have to manage their period without access to the sanitary product of their choice. Governments should play an active role in providing the infrastructure and knowledge needed to support this right. 

At a minimum, women everywhere need clean water for washing themselves and any reusable sanitary materials, decent private toilets that give them the space, privacy, as well as access to adequate and acceptable sanitary products and disposal methods. Yet, 1 in 9 people don’t have clean water close to home, while 1 in 3 don't have a decent toilet of their own. 

Without these services, menstruation can affect women’s health and involvement in social and economic life, and thus their opportunities.

Within the communities that WaterAid works, we talked to women about their periods. The result is a revealing snapshot of traditions passed on from mother to daughter, as well as women’s own, often innovative, solutions. 

In Uganda, Lepera Joyce uses an animal skin ‘menstruation skirt’ when she is on her period. She says: 

“Once I bought a pack of sanitary pads from the shop but I did not like them because if one has heavy blood flow she can use more than three pads in a day yet they are expensive. Also they are small, they do not absorb all blood, yet the goatskin skirt works for the whole day.”

In Nepal, Sangita makes her own sanitary pads. She says: 

“Readymade pads are costly and if you do not dispose them properly it will pollute the environment. In a municipality like ours where there is no plan for managing solid waste, these sorts of pads can contaminate our water source as well if not disposed of properly. So looking at the wider impact, homemade pads are safer.”

In many countries, cloth is the go-to material for women, which helps to tackle disposal issues in places where facilities are lacking. The environmental impact of disposable sanitary pads is huge. For example, in India, there are about 121 million women of reproductive age; if all of them use just eight sanitary pads a month, this amounts to 12 billion pads annually. 

Louisa Gosling, WaterAid's Quality Programmes Manager, said:

“Half the world’s population menstruates for a significant portion of their life, and it is not acceptable that for so long, this has not been openly discussed or made a priority. Women shouldn’t have to worry about where they might go, how they might manage their periods, or whether the appropriate facilities including running water and adequate disposal will be available. 

“We welcome the decision of the Tanzanian and Indian governments to abolish taxes on sanitary products, but more action is needed. WaterAid is calling on governments worldwide to prioritise appropriate sanitation, clean water, and good hygiene in schools, homes, and workplaces, and access to sanitary products to all, to ensure that women are not excluded from society once a month as a result of a natural process.” 

Ibrahim Kabole, WaterAid Tanzania Country Director said:

“It is the right of every woman and girl to be able to manage their period with dignity. While the decision of our government to abolish taxes on sanitary products was a bold step in the right direction, much more needs to be done. Half the population lives without a clean water supply close to home and more than 75 percent does not have a decent toilet, which is crucial for women to manage their periods.”

WaterAid work in some of the hardest to reach places in the world to provide appropriate sanitation facilities and menstrual hygiene skills and education to those women and girls who need it. 


For more information, please contact:

In London: Yola Verbruggen, Senior Media Officer, [email protected] or +44 (0) 207 793 4909.

Or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552
or email [email protected].

In the US: Emily Haile, Senior Communications and Media Manager, [email protected].

In Melbourne: Kevin Hawkins, Communications Manager, [email protected] or +61 3 9001 8248.

In Ottawa: Aneesha Hampton, Communications Manager, [email protected] or +1 (613) 230-5182.

In Stockholm: Magdalena Olsson, Communications Manager, [email protected] or +46 (0)8 677 30 33
or +46 (0)73 661 93 31, or Petter Gustafsson, Communications Officer,
on [email protected] or +46 (0)8 677 30 21
or +46 (0)72 858 58 51


WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to clean water and sanitation. 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 26.4 million people with clean water and 26.3 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidUK or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or visit us on Facebook at

  • 844 million people in the world – one in nine – do not have clean water close to home.[1]

  • 2.3 billion people in the world – almost one in three – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]

  • Around 289,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's more than 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]

  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]

  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[5]

  • To find out if countries are keeping their promises on water and sanitation, see the online database


[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines


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