New York, NY, March 13, 2015 — Today the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and UN Women revealed that women and girls in Central and West Africa lack access to clean water, private spaces for managing their menstruation, and clean, functioning toilet facilities. In a series of studies, developed within the Joint Programme on Gender, Hygiene and Sanitation in West and Central Africa, researchers drew upon the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) prepared by the Open Working Group and the Secretary General’s Synthesis Report on the Post-2015 development agenda.
The studies provide critical information about sociocultural taboos on menstrual hygiene and linked knowledge and practices in the region in order to highlight an area of global neglect with deleterious consequences for for the education, mobility and economic opportunity for women and girls, societies, and economies.
“Few people talk about how menstruation can be managed with dignity and safety,” said Dr. Chris Williams, Executive Director of WSSCC. “As a result of this, women and girls often choose to limit their cultural, educational, social and economic activities while menstruating, missing school, work and play.”
At an event hosted by the Permanent Missions of Singapore and Senegal to the United Nations, Government representatives, policymakers, researchers and development practitioners articulated the need to talk about this neglected area in women’s health and education- menstrual hygiene management. Informed by evidence from Central and West Africa, South Asia and wider, the discussion took stock of the gross neglect of this issue in awareness, policy, facilities and monitoring.
“There is a general culture of silence surrounding all aspects of menstruation,” said Dr. Josephine Odera, Regional Director and Representative of the UN Women Regional Office for West and Central Africa. “This silence is exacerbated by taboos and myths that perpetuate practices that women and girls believe and how they manage their menstruation from personal hygiene to the cleaning and disposal of used materials.”
Key findings from the reports included:
- At present, there are no public policies in West or Central Africa mentioning menstrual hygiene management. Although women manage the water, sanitation and hygiene services in their households and community and are key users as mothers and caregivers, they are not consulted in the design and maintenance elements of sanitation and water facilities. Since 2013, India’s sanitation policy and guidelines include menstrual hygiene management as a key element of the national campaign to achieve a clean India.
- A lack of information, inadequate sanitary infrastructure and the persistence of certain beliefs have a negative impact on girls’ education, on female health and on women’s potential for economic empowerment. Half of all schools surveyed in the Kedougou region of Senegal did not even have toilets and 96% of the women surveyed said they did not regularly go to work while they were menstruating.
- The majority of respondents in all regions surveyed said that toilets are the most common places for the disposal of used menstrual pads or cloths due to the absence of a waste management system.
- 90% of the women and girls interviewed in Kedougou have undergone female genital mutilations. Nearly a quarter of them reported infections during their menstrual period, suggesting a link between this practice and increased vulnerability to infections.
Key policy recommendations from the event include the following:
- Member states must break this silence, articulating menstrual needs in policies, budgets, programmes and monitoring systems and calling upon the global community to empower women and girls by guaranteeing safe menstrual hygiene management.
- Menstruation is an indicator of female health and vitality. Sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy and programmes must ensure knowledge, safe conditions and dignity so that the trauma at puberty is replaced by pride and confidence.
- Citizens, the media, schools and colleges, health practitioners, mothers and fathers must talk about menstruation and enable safe, dignified management in order to replace shame with pride.
- Safe spaces for changing, cleaning and washing and drying at home, school, the market and work must be ensured for women and girls everywhere. This means changing the design, construction and maintenance of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities to serve a human lifecycle by age, gender and physical ability.
- Half of humanity is female. Women and girls menstruate as this enables them to have babies and reproduce humanity itself. The silence, taboos, and stigma linked to menstruation violates a host of human rights.
The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council is at the heart of the global movement to improve sanitation and hygiene, so that all people can enjoy healthy and productive lives. Established in 1990, WSSCC is the only United Nations body devoted solely to the sanitation needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized people. In collaboration with our members in 150 countries, WSSCC advocates for the billions of people worldwide who lack access to good sanitation, shares solutions that empower communities, and operates the Global Sanitation Fund, transform lives in developing countries through sustainable behaviour change.