Accessibility to Menstrual Hygiene facilities: A Human Right or a Privilege?
Menstruation is a natural phenomenon for women in their reproductive ages. It involves the shedding of the uterine tissues through vaginal bleeding. Although it varies from women, a typical period should take up to 3-7days monthly.
Menstruation is a vital and normal occurrence in a woman’s life. Still, in many communities globally, the existence of myths, beliefs, taboos, and social barriers that portray menstruation as filthy or unclean to talk about in public and even private places makes it hard for women to access adequate menstrual healthcare products and services. This social stigmatization of the menstrual period causes some women to choose to manage their period as discreetly as possible.
A case study about a group of girls from a Kenyan high school reported that most girls, to protect their confidentiality during periods, often resort to harmful alternatives of collecting menstrual blood such as the use of toilet papers, leaves, rags, soil, newspapers, and even absenteeism from school. Unfortunately, the issue of inaccessibility of menstrual healthcare services is not only limited to Kenya. The world bank estimated at least 500 million women and girls globally lacked adequate menstrual hygiene facilities in 2018. This lack has prompted the establishment of several organizations like Menstrual Hygiene day, Sustainable Health Enterprise (SHE), Kindara, and many others to challenge the status quo of period poverty and create a menstrual ecosystem for women to strive without gender being a barrier to their productivity and wellbeing.
As a social issue, menstrual hygiene has gained the most attraction ever recorded in the present century. Several concerns, views, and opinions have been raised concerning the topic of menstrual hygiene. One of these many topics is ‘Should the Accessibility of Menstrual Hygiene Facilities be a human right or a privilege?’
Let’s Break it Down.
Human rights are fundamental rights and freedoms that every human being has by virtue of human dignity. Human rights are simply rights we have because we are human, which means the rights are regardless of sex, age, socio-economic background, or race, and they cannot be taken away from us. Meanwhile, privileges are unique advantages or immunity given to a particular person or group of people. Now that we have broken down these terminologies, where do we stand on this topic?
Accessibility to menstrual Hygiene facilities is a human right. Here’s why.
Menstruation is natural. It is a vital sign of a woman’s ability to reproduce offsprings. So, if menstruation is such an essential indication of a woman’s health, why does it have to be a privilege to access the healthcare facilities needed to manage such a natural phenomenon? This question is not to undermine a woman’s capability to manage her period independently. Still, the point is giving as much priority and resources to establishing a menstruation-supportive environment for women. The enactment of governmental policies such as hygienic bathrooms, changing rooms running water, and menstrual blood collection supplies in schools, churches, and other social institutions can go a long way in creating such an environment for women during their periods.
Menstruation is inherently related to human dignity -when women lack access to safe and effective means of managing their menstrual hygiene. They will be unable to manage menstruation gracefully. According to plan international, 28% of girls in Uganda will miss school on account of their period resulting in lower learning time and grades (Egunyu, 2021). In the Solomon Islands, more than 43% of the women can’t afford menstrual products, which deprives the women of the enjoyment of their fundamental rights to education and wellbeing (Research on menstrual hygiene management in the Pacific: Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea, 2017). So the lack of adequate menstrual healthcare facilities is a global health challenge faced by most women around the world.
**A picture of Laura Coryton first protest for the petition to scrap the “tampon tax” – a sales tax on sanitary products – in the UK in 2015.**
Let us look at a country taking strides to normalize and prioritize the menstrual needs of its female population. On October 3rd, the Australian government finally scrapped the 18-year controversial tampon tax. The removal of the tampon tax in Australia has indeed sent a solid message to the world that women should not have to pay taxes for such an essential product. We should not financially punish women for the very vital and natural aspect of their femininity.
Although some people, even women, argue that menstrual hygiene products are particular to only women of reproductive ages and that certain advantages might fuel some gender budgeting imbalances. As I could recall, this opinion resurfaced during an interview with some women in Nigeria about their menstrual hygiene practices. I asked them if they thought the provision of menstrual healthcare facilities for women should be a top priority at the parliamentary level. Their responses summarize that “Other important issues are facing our country’s government, such as insecurity, poverty, corruption, and so on. Hence menstruation can remain a topic under the table”. While I understand that a state’s government has several issues to resolve, we should not treat menstrual hygiene facilities with any less priority. In doing this, we will reduce the alarming increment in the number of women infected with reproductive tract illnesses due to poor menstrual hygiene practices.
Did you know?
Over 80% of women in their reproductive ages experience menstrual pain with little or no support system to help them safely maneuver this pain (“Period pain | Women’s Health Concern”, 2021). One of the popular coping mechanisms used by women in Africa during this time is over-the-counter medicines and the placement of hot water bottles on the lower abdomen. The problem with these coping mechanisms is that they are unsustainable as the former’s prolonged use can cause internal body organ damages and the latter, plastic waste and skin scalding. Here’s another reason why the accessibility of menstrual hygiene facilities should be a human right, menstruation for most women is not as simple as blood flows. There is a premenstrual syndrome that affects a woman’s emotions, physical wellbeing, and behaviors at a different time of the menstrual cycle. Some countries such as Zambia, China, Hongkong, Indonesia, Taiwan are making great strides in creating an equitable environment for women during menstrual by their governmental policy of menstrual leaves (Coza, 2021).
Conclusively, accessibility of menstrual healthcare facilities is a right and not to be addressed as a privilege. Access to menstrual pads, heat pads, hygienic bathrooms, and all other systems that can make period management dignifiable is not a luxury. It is an essential resource if we genuinely want to achieve an equitable ecosystem for both males and females to co-exist. The acknowledgment of menstrual healthcare facilities as a right is the first step to ensuring women’s health, thereby bridging the gap of gender inequalities within the health sector.
I would like to hear from you. Do you think the accessibility of menstrual hygiene facilities should be a human right or a privilege? Kindly let me know your opinion in the comment section below.Tag: Menstruation, Human right, Women
Cables News Network(CNN). (2021). Menstruation is natural – Why period shaming must stop now! [Image]. Retrieved 27 March 2021, from https://www.news18.com/news/partner-content/menstruation-is-natural-why-period-shaming-must-stop-now-3153563.html.
Coza, J. (2021). All the Current Countries with Menstrual Leave. Fairygodboss.com. Retrieved 28 March 2021, from https://fairygodboss.com/articles/paid-menstrual-leave-yes-please.
Egunyu, D. (2021). A bleeding shame: why is menstruation still holding girls back?. the Guardian. Retrieved 26 March 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/may/28/menstruation-girls-education-uganda-sanitation#:~:text=Girls%20in%20rural%20Uganda%20miss,schools%20in%20five%20districts%20revealed.
Period pain | Women’s Health Concern. Women’s Health Concern. (2021). Retrieved 27 March 2021, from https://www.womens-health-concern.org/help-and-advice/factsheets/period-pain/#:~:text=Around%2080%25%20of%20women%20experience,enough%20to%20disrupt%20their%20life.
Research on menstrual hygiene management in the Pacific: Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea. (2017). [Ebook]. Retrieved 27 March 2021, from https://www.issuelab.org/resources/30785/30785.pdf?download=true.
Women of reproductive age (15-49 years) population (thousands). Who.int. (2021). Retrieved 27 March 2021, from https://www.who.int/data/maternal-newborn-child-adolescent-ageing/indicator-explorer-new/mca/women-of-reproductive-age-(15-49-years)-population-(thousands).