Include men and boys in menstrual hygiene to reduce gender inequalities

By Karanja Daniel, MHM champion and WSSCC member

8 Oct, 2019 in Partner Perspective Categories

The Sustainable Development Goal 6 ensures the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, with target 6.2 unpacking sanitation and hygiene needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations. But, what are these needs? do men and boys have roles to play regarding these needs? and, how exactly can men and boys support menstruation?

Integrated monitoring of SDG6 requires a system that supports and strengthens the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Water & Sanitation, Leo Heller recommended in his report that States need to deliver recommendations to local governments setting out how to determine which public spaces require the provision of water and sanitation services and what level and type of provision is required hence adolescent girls and women stand to benefit with dignified menstruation experience beyond the household.

Picture: Karanja Daniel and Leo Heller at the World Water Week 2019

According to the Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) Hygiene working group 2012, menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is defined as women and girls being able to use clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect menstrual blood. One should be able to change the material in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of a menstrual period, using soap and water for washing the body as required and having access to safe and convenient facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials. Further, they ought to understand the basic facts linked to the menstrual cycle and how to manage it. Men and boys have equal stakes in Menstrual Hygiene Management and could support in the following ways:  

  • Become ambassadors or change-makers who challenge the status quo of myths, misconceptions and practices that allow fear, shame and discomfort during menstruation.
  • Provide psychosocial support, mostly, by understanding and appreciating gender-biased vulnerabilities brought about by hormones during menstruation. Experiences differ from one person to another.
  • Infrastructural and financial support is fundamental in enhancing effective MHM; access to safe spaces (toilets) that provide privacy and security while ensuring adequate provision of water and soap as well as the purchasing power of menstrual products. Create impact within the menstrual health and hygiene space as researchers and entrepreneurs championing for environmentally friendly sustainable innovations that promote safe and hygienic disposal and/or reuse of the used menstrual product.

In Western Kenya, 10% of young adolescent girls admitted transactional sex for pads (Phillips-Howard et al, 2015). “As responsible men within our communities, we ought to support our girls and women experience dignified menstruation. It is unacceptable to take advantage of nature. We will mobilize resources to continue empowering girls and boys in schools… Collectively, we can make access to quality menstrual materials a reality for menstruating girls and women,” said Nobert Musundi, County Public Health Officer, Trans Nzoia County during the WSSCC training of MHM trainers to mark Menstrual Hygiene Day earlier this year.

During the 2019 World Water Week, a session titled MHM: Health and dignity for all brought together governments, donors, UN, and civil society representatives to discuss how agencies can effectively engage across sectoral priorities and respond and fulfil the right of every menstruating adolescent girl and woman. In this session, Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) Building Blocks were used to understand the inclusion of MHM in national policies and strategies. SWA should also make MHM as one of the priority issues in subsequent High-Level Meetings by asking relevant partners and stakeholders to share targets and achievements. Even through the lens of SWA’s Guiding Principles, addressing gender inclusivity, equity and non-discrimination by engaging men and boys to support menstrual hygiene will not only promote water and sanitation for all as a fundamental human right, but will also go a long way in ensuring no one is left behind in terms of coverage, access, use and effectiveness of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services.