Menstrual hygiene is gaining traction as a critical water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) concern in the Asia-Pacific, and intersects many Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In Timor-Leste, our WASH program works to support the needs of rural communities in relation to menstrual hygiene.
Many women are limited by their periods. A lack of appropriate menstrual hygiene facilities and education disempowers women and girls and impacts their lives, education outcomes and futures.
May 28 is Menstrual Hygiene Day. We asked four individuals who work in the WASH sector in Timor-Leste on why this day is so important.
Menstrual hygiene intersects SDG6: Ensure availability and sustainability of water and sanitation by all.
2.5 billion people have no access to improved sanitation facilities. Lack of access to facilities, or inadequate facilities that do not ensure privacy and hygiene, particularly affect women and girls.
We need to ensure that all women and girls have access to water and sanitation facilities that are safe, socially and culturally acceptable and allow for the safe disposal of menstrual products. Involved women in the WASH sector also means that women are represented and have a voice in developing appropriate facilities.
Menstrual hygiene intersects SDG3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
If women and girls lack access to affordable, hygienic menstrual products, they often use old rags, cloths or other unhygienic materials. This can lead to reproductive tract infections (RTIs) and other health conditions.
We need to integrate menstrual hygiene management into sexual and reproductive health education programmes, especially for adolescents.
Menstrual hygiene intersects SDG4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.
Girls in developing countries miss up to 5 days of school per month when they menstruate.
Girls who do attend class often experience challenges around self-confidence and concentration, due to menstruation-related discomfort or being embarrassed or fearful of staining.
A lack of facilities may also impact the willingness of female teachers to work in schools, leading to an absence of female teachers to mentor girls and discuss menstruation. Poor facilities also result in women missing work, lost economic opportunities.
We need to integrate education about menstrual hygiene management and puberty into school curricula, and build the capacity of teachers to teach about these issues with comfort.
Menstrual hygiene intersects SDG5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Taboos and myths related to menstruation often portray women and girls as inferior to men and boys. Menstruation is sometimes seen as a disease or a spell, and as a result, women and girls are excluded from family and social activities while menstruating.
It is important to include men and boys in conversations about menstruation to help create normalcy and foster a supportive environment for men and girls.
We need to ensure that all women and girls can manage their menstruation safely, hygienically and with dignity. We need to address taboos and promote positive social norms around menstruation.
Our projects receive support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).