Making Period Stigma History

Menstrual Hygiene Day 28 May

A group of adolescent girls
28 May 2021

Menstruation is a healthy and natural part of the reproductive cycle, yet many children and adolescents in the region experience both period stigma and period poverty (not having access to safe, hygienic, menstrual products) during their life. Misinformation and lack of basic knowledge lead to girls being out of school during their period or makes children and adolescents feel ashamed for bleeding. UNICEF believes in ending period stigma through changing social norms and behaviours and by ensuring every child’s access to knowledge and information about menstruation.

Every child should know what a period is and how the cycle works in order to feel normal and secure in their own body. The possibility to keep good menstrual health and hygiene is a core part of dignity and prosperity for children in MENA and is manifested in several human rights, such as the right to live in dignity, the right to health and the right to bodily autonomy. In MENA, mensuration may directly impact children’s education as menstruating children may be reluctant to go to school because of stigma and inadequate sanitary facilities. Learning about menstruation and creating safe spaces to have conversations and exchange knowledge is a crucial aspect to empower, build self-esteem and end period stigma. Since 2014, there has been increased numbers of governments, NGO’s and UN agencies working on menstruation education. In addition, in order to reach our vision, UNICEF stresses the importance to increase sex education and calls upon governmental partners to advance and institutionalize sex education in schools for every child.

The global issue of period poverty increases in times of humanitarian need and emergency. In the MENA region, 100 million children lack access to safe water supply services and three out of ten households do not have a basic handwashing facility. With the high numbers of refugees, internally displaced people or people living in need of humanitarian assistance without access to adequate facilities and supplies in the region for managing their menstrual health, ending period poverty is crucial. To combat period poverty there is a need to ensure adequate access to affordable menstrual protection products, knowledge on the natural body cycle as well as establishing supportive social norms to discuss menstruation issues without the fear of being silenced or shamed. As menstruation is a natural dimension of the humanitarian response, UNICEF stresses the importance to address the specific needs of menstruating children in emergencies. 

Conversations about menstruation should be done openly at schools, in the private life, including with the support and engagement of male family members, as well as in the community at large. UNICEF believes in the possibility to live in a world where no one is held back because of menstruation. In order to end stigma and period poverty, we call upon efforts to ensure everyone’s access to affordable menstrual products by exempting menstrual products from taxes and providing products for free, basic information about menstruation and hygiene management as well as period-friendly and gender-sensitive WASH facilities. As the world’s most water-scarce region, we also call on governments and development actors to consider integrating “Menstrual Health and Hygiene” needs in their preparedness plans.