The phrase “menstrual health” has been widely used in activism, programming, policy, and research, but it still lacks a clear, comprehensive definition. A comprehensive definition of menstrual health is required in order to:
- Ensure that menstrual health is prioritized as a single objective in global health, development, national policy, and funding frameworks.
- Explain the breadth of menstrual health, even when different needs may be prioritized in different sectors.
- Facilitate a shared vocabulary through which stakeholders can communicate across to share learning,
Although awareness of menstrual-related issues has increased over the past ten years, more multi-sectoral investment is required to fully meet the needs of all people who menstruate. Menstrual health is essential to enhancing global population health, achieving Sustainable Development Goals, realizing gender equality, and protecting human rights.
In regard to the monthly cycle, menstrual health is a condition of the whole physical, mental, and social well-being rather than only the absence of disease or infirmity. In order to achieve menstrual health, women, girls, and all other persons who have a menstrual cycle must be able to:
- Have access to timely, reliable information about the menstrual cycle, menstruation, and changes that occur throughout life, as well as self-care and hygiene procedures that are associated.
- Tend to their bodies throughout their cycle in a way that supports their preferences, hygiene, comfort, privacy, and safety. It also entails having supportive facilities and services, such as water, sanitation, and hygiene services, for washing one’s body and hands, changing one’s menstrual supplies, and cleaning and/or discarding used materials, in addition to having access to and using efficient and reasonably priced menstrual products.
- Get prompt diagnosis, treatment, and care for discomforts and disorders associated with the menstrual cycle, including appropriate access to health services and resources, pain management, and self-care techniques.
- Have access to the tools and assistance they need to confidently take care of their bodies and make knowledgeable decisions about self-care throughout their menstrual cycle, in a positive and respectful atmosphere that is free from stigma and psychological distress regarding the menstrual period.
- Choose to participate in all aspects of life, including civic, cultural, economic, social, and political, at all times of the menstrual cycle, without being subjected to menstrual-related exclusion, restriction, discrimination, coercion, or violence. This concept of menstrual health aligns with the WHO definition of health and considers not only physical health but also mental and social welfare.
This emphasizes the fact that social isolation, mental health repercussions, and discomforts associated with menstruation are not specific to the menstrual cycle. While women and girls make up the majority of persons who have periods, this approach also emphasizes the importance of menstrual health for all those who do, regardless of gender identification. Additionally, it acknowledges that not all women who have periods will have regular bleeding and that not having periods can cause anxiety and emotional suffering.
Menstruation is experienced differently by each person, depending on their life experiences, needs, and circumstances. Menstruation is referred to as occurring “for women, girls, and all other persons who have a menstrual cycle.” Menstrual experiences are influenced by a variety of factors, including disability, age, gender identity, place of residence, homelessness, unstable housing, detention conditions, migration, disaster, insecurity and displacement, religion, ethnicity, and culture, among many others. These factors must all be taken into account in order to adequately meet menstrual health needs. This doesn’t imply that those who don’t have periods aren’t influenced by the social, cultural, and economic components of menstruation or that they shouldn’t be instrumental in helping others achieve this status.
On the contrary, attaining a full state of menstrual health necessitates education regarding the menstrual cycle for everyone, including men and boys, healthcare professionals and the destruction of damaging stigma and norms within society as a whole. The prerequisites for obtaining this state are listed in our basic definition of menstrual health. As previously stated, the requirements include the freedom to participate in all aspects of life as well as knowledge about the menstrual cycle and self-care, supplies, services, and facilities for caring for the body while it is menstruating, as well as diagnosis, care, and treatment for menstrual discomforts and disorders.
Women, girls, and individuals who go through the menstrual cycle need access to accurate biological and useful information to ensure menstrual health. Understanding of the body for menstrual health and SRHR is made possible by biological knowledge of the menstrual cycle and its connection to reproduction and fertility. Menstruating people are better able to make decisions when they have practical knowledge, which helps in reducing discomforts and preserving bodily autonomy. Furthermore, truthful information can help eliminate taboos and myths that are harmful to menstruation health. To promote mental health and help those who have a menstrual cycle distinguish between changes that are typical and those that may need medical treatment, this information must be made available in a timely manner. For instance, prior to menarche, menstrual information must be disclosed.
Similar to this, prior to the commencement of these changes, information regarding changes to the menstrual cycle owing to the use of contraceptives, pregnancy and the postpartum period, perimenopause, menopause, and in reaction to disease or other health stressors like significant weight loss is necessary. Information must also be age-appropriate and presented in ways that are accessible to those with a variety of disabilities if it is to be understood by them.
Supplies, facilities, and services
In order to support menstrual health, individuals must be able to choose self-care strategies that are convenient and comfortable for them and be able to afford them. These behaviours ought to promote hygiene and reduce the possibility of infection and damage. Women, girls, and other people who menstruate must be able to take care of their bodies in a safe environment that protects them from the risk of experiencing physical, emotional, or social harm. They must also have the level of privacy they desire to feel free from unwanted observation or disturbance. The location of facilities and services, the standard of menstruation products, and disposal procedures must all take safety into account.
Disposal procedures must safeguard against emotional and social harm to a person’s menstrual health, and they must also contribute to environmental health. The infrastructure and services needed to support the wide range of methods people use to take care of their bodies while they are menstruating have been identified via research. Self-care requirements go beyond simply having access to supplies for menstrual collection. They also include transporting and storing supplies, as well as needing facilities and services for changing clothes, washing hands and the body, getting rid of used supplies and cleaning reusable supplies, which may involve washing, drying, and other sterilizing procedures like boiling or ironing.
These care requirements are necessary both inside and outside of the home, day and night. People with disabilities must be able to access materials, facilities, and services. In addition to being a source of distress, irritation, and pain, difficulties managing menstruation have been connected to probable reproductive tract infections, have been highlighted as impediments to education and employment, and can jeopardize social well-being. To understand the challenges faced by women and girls during menstruation, check out our short course in Menstrual Health Management today.