Menstrual Hygiene Day: Creating a world where girls and boys can talk about menstruation without shame

Op-ed by Jon Michael Villasenor

28 May 2024
Young students get introduced to the Oky Philippines Period Tracker App
UNICEF Philippines/2023/Janelle Ang

Every year, Menstrual Hygiene Day is a reminder of the critical need to address one of the most pervasive and yet least discussed aspects of girls' health and empowerment: menstrual health and hygiene. For too long, the topic of menstruation has been shrouded in stigma and misconceptions, leaving girls feeling ashamed and uninformed about their own bodies.

In 2016, we published a study and found that girls learn about menstruation through a patchwork of myths and misconceptions from family and friends. Teachers often feel ill-equipped to discuss menstrual health, and the topic is frequently omitted or glossed over in school instruction. This lack of reliable information leaves girls unprepared and vulnerable to the physical and emotional challenges of menstruation. The lack of awareness among boys and men about menstruation often perpetuates teasing and stigma, creating an environment where girls feel unsupported and embarrassed.

Education plays a pivotal role to end this cycle. Understanding menstruation is essential for girls to grasp their bodies changes, maintain overall wellbeing, and empowers them with knowledge about fertility and reproductive health. Educating adolescent girls about menstruation ensures they can manage their periods confidently, enabling them to make informed choices about their bodies and fostering a healthy transition into womanhood.

We at UNICEF are dedicated to empowering girls with the knowledge and confidence they need to manage their menstrual health with dignity and pride. At the heart of this mission is our commitment to breaking the stigma surrounding menstruation through various initiatives.

UNICEF is supporting the #MeronAko campaign, an initiative led by the Department of Education in collaboration with the Center for Health Solutions and Innovations to reduce the stigma around menstruation through a series of workshops and colorful, adolescent-friendly materials.

Last year, we introduced Oky, a period tracker application designed and created for and with girls in the Philippines. Oky more than tracks menstrual cycles, it delivers accessible, reliable, and engaging information about menstruation and other critical topics for young people, including relationships, mental health, family planning, and child protection. Through fun and creative content, Oky helps demystify menstruation and empowers girls to take control of their health and bodies.

As of May 2024, Oky has reached 74,000 girls aged 10-19. Support from the Department of Education, the Ministry of Basic, Higher and Technical Education in BARMM, Department of Health, National Youth Commission (NYC) and Commission on Population facilitated roll-outs and integration into services. We want to help every girl in the Philippines access this application.   

Students get introduced to the Oky Philippines Period Tracker App
UNICEF Philippines/2023/Janelle Ang

Providing adolescent-friendly tools is a foundational step towards creating a world where girls and boys can talk about menstruation without shame. I remember girls proudly waving copies of the information booklet on menstruation that UNICEF produced, saying that they now have the knowledge that they should have learned prior to their menarche. A couple of boys soon joined us and expressed that the booklets have enabled them to engage in healthy conversation with girls on menstruation and learned that it is normal and need not be a trigger for teasing and bullying.

Normalizing menstruation and ensuring effective menstrual hygiene management entails that boys understand menstruation and its physiological, psychological, relational and socio-economic dimensions. It is critical for fathers like me to be part of, even facilitate, the conversation on menstrual health and hygiene with their children, girls and boys. Menstruation signifies the beginning of the reproductive journey of girls. In effect, so too for boys. Without the involvement of fathers in promoting proper information and practice on menstrual health and hygiene completes, menstruation will not fully shed the stigma and shame for girls. On the other hand, men and boys’ proper knowledge can create the optimal environment for effective menstrual health and hygiene management.

Through initiatives like these, we have seen significant advancement in policies and plans, with approximately 60 percent of schools now equipped with menstrual health information, education, and communication materials for both teachers and learners as of 2021. There has also been a substantial increase in the provision of emergency sanitary pads and information on proper disposal, with 82.5 percent of schools reporting such provisions in 2021. 

While these improvements have been recognized globally and are inspiring, there is still much more to be done. For example, brand promotions on menstrual health hygiene tend to focus on themes related to personality development, primarily targeting middle- to upper-class consumers. This tends to obscure the real-life challenges faced by young women, especially those in low-income, underserved communities who lack access to menstrual information, supplies, and facilities.

In the Philippines, UNICEF is calling for more data and evidence on menstrual health to understand the realities of adolescent girls, increasing engagement of the government and the private sector, making manufacturers accountable for plastic materials recovery in sanitary pads, promoting alternative, affordable and environmentally sustainable menstrual materials, and building the capacity of teachers for creative and interactive approaches to learning delivery on menstrual hygiene.

Jon Michael Villasenor is a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Officer in UNICEF Philippines.


The Oky Philippines app, supported by the Australian Government, is a joint product of the Department of Health, Department of Education, Commission on Population and Development, and National Youth Commission, together with UNICEF Philippines and in partnership with Plan International Philippines

Media contacts

Lely Djuhari
Chief of Advocacy and Communication
UNICEF Philippines
Tel: +639175675622
Marge Francia
Advocacy & Communication Specialist
UNICEF Philippines
Tel: +63 917 858 9447

About UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in the Philippines, visit www.unicef.ph.

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