What is Menstrual Hygiene Day?
Menstrual hygiene day was created by WASH United to raise awareness about and to help to end period stigma and period poverty.
The date of 28th May was chosen for Menstrual Hygiene Day as it symbolises the 28 day average menstrual cycle and the 5 day average bleed.
Why is Menstrual Hygiene Day important?
Menstrual Hygiene Day is important because despite periods being a natural and biological reality for over half of the worlds population for at least part of their lives, issues of period poverty, shame, secrecy and stigma around menstruation prevail, and can have serious negative effects for women, girls and other people who menstruate.
Many women, girls and other menstruators around the world do not have access to clean sanitary pads, tampons, or washing facilities as a result of poverty.
The health risks of resorting to unsuitable materials, such as leaves or old blankets to absorb period blood can result in health issues such as infections from pathogens on the surface of these improvised period management materials. Lack of access to adequate soap and water facilities during periods can also cause distress and discomfort. Avoidance of school while menstruating because of period poverty is a further issue that feeds into wider social inequalities because it can prevent access to education and limit opportunities.
Period poverty occurs in poorer global regions and also in the more affluent global north. In the UK, for example, studies have shown that 1 in 10 girls between the ages of 14 and 21 are unable to afford period products, leading to the use of socks or tissue paper as absorbents.
Stigma and taboos
Periods are often shrouded in secrecy and shame. Misogynistic, religious and cultural taboos and myths are rife, leading to embarrassment and shame for people who menstruate. For example, in some cultures, the myth that periods are dirty has even lead to the imposition of restrictions for those menstruating on entering religious places, living quarters, and kitchens along with bans on touching food and cooking utensils, washing, and being seen by men. In affluent countries, marketing of period products perpetuates the idea that periods should be kept secret by the advertising of ‘discreet’ products or even period absorbents that have a perfume, implying that periods are dirty and smell.
What is meant by ‘Menstrual Hygiene’?
WASH United have stated that the wording is derived from the definition of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) by the Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene of the WHO and UNICEF.
The definition of MHM provided is:
Women and adolescent girls using a clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect blood that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of the menstruation period, using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials. They understand the basic facts linked to the menstrual cycle and how to manage it with dignity and without discomfort or fear.Joint Monitoring Program of the WHO and UNICEF
Does the term Menstrual ‘Hygiene’ imply that periods are dirty?
The choice of the word Hygiene in the title of the day could be interpreted as unintentionally perpetuating the myth that periods are dirty, contributing to the stigma around periods.
However, the use of the word ‘hygiene’ is specifically referencing access to hygienic management facilities and products rather than referring to periods themselves as either hygienic or unhygienic. The intention of the wording is not to imply that periods are dirty. Rather, the term means to highlight the fact that in many cases, the improvised period absorption materials themselves may be unclean, or there may not be adequate soap and water facilities for people who menstruate to feel clean and refreshed, or wash their period products to sanitise them.
Is Menstrual Health a better term to use?
The stigma around periods is complex, and beyond access to hygienic period management, wider issues including mental health, physical health, social wellbeing, social inclusion, inequality, stigma, policy, health care, rights and education are important to consider as we advocate for people who menstruate.
The term Menstrual Health better encapsulates this more holistic view of issues around menstruation, and you may feel more comfortable using this terms if you are worried about interpretations of shame associated with the idea that periods are dirty.
How can I help?
You can help to support the movement to end period poverty and period shame by raising awareness.
- Share this post, or one of our blog posts about period shame.
- Share other social media content raising awareness.
- Help normalise comfort around discussing periods.
- Be vocal in your advocacy of people who menstruate.Use the hashtag #menstrualhygieneday on social media.
- Donate to organisations fighting to end period poverty and stigma.