Every month, 1.8 billion people across the world have a period – but millions have to manage theirs without essential 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 aren’t just humiliating, but they’re unsafe too – and can have far-reaching impacts that put women and girls at a disadvantage throughout their lives. Many simply have no choice but to stay home every month, missing out on vital opportunities to go to school, earn a living, and take control of their futures.
Honest conversations help children to grow up knowing how to manage their periods properly, as well as understanding they aren’t something to be ashamed of.
And we make sure boys – like 11-year-old Zie, an active member of his school hygiene club in Banfora, Burkina Faso – are included too, to challenge the stigma and harmful beliefs around periods.
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 – falling further and further behind in the classroom, and sometimes dropping out entirely.
Meet Rihanata, Sandhya 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 (MHM) 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, nobody talked about menstruation. There was a kind of awkward silence deeply rooted in the school, which is completely broken now – and I’m so glad about it.”
Until recently, many girls at 18-year-old Sandyha’s school in Lahan, 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, pupils – girls and boys alike – understand that menstruation is a natural process, and are able to speak about it openly.
“When I start my period while at school, I go to our new MHM 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 (MHM) room, in Twiringiyimana’s school.
Girls can use the MHM facilities and ready supply of water to keep themselves clean, and speak to the specially-trained teacher mentor – or 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 whilst 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.
Explore research, guidance and expert-led insights into WASH and menstrual hygiene on our policy and practice site.
Sisters of the moon
Award-winning visual artist Poulomi Basu talks periods, power and protest in her commission for WaterAid.
Main image: women and girls take part in a menstrual hygiene management training session in Lucknow, India.