As a father of two girls, I want my daughters to have every opportunity to thrive in today’s world. And this ambition has increased my determination to help remove the obstacles that deny all women and girls this chance.
There are many barriers to dismantle. But among the most widespread and neglected are those obstacles that accompany the normal biological process of menstruation.
For millions of girls and women every month, menstruation is a time of dread. Lack of water and sanitation and access to menstrual hygiene products at this time impacts their health, dignity, comfort, and ability to fully participate in their communities. A lack of information can lead to feelings of shame — and social stigmatization, discrimination and isolation in their community.
Taboos about menstruation can see women refused access to religious temples or public spaces. In some cultures, they can even be made to leave their homes and villages.
The scope and reach of this issue is huge, and we’re glad to see it explored so thoroughly by our partners at FSG.
They have found that few governments, corporations and nongovernmental organizations are looking at menstrual health as a systemic and crosscutting problem. As a result, many are missing the opportunity to address the problems at scale. Few have identified the link between menstrual hygiene and other health, development and empowerment outcomes — water and sanitation being one of them.
Galvanizing global efforts to tackle these challenges is the aim of Menstrual Hygiene Day, marked around the world on May 28. It must start with improving education for girls and for their communities.
Information about menstruation is all too often severely lacking. For example, 7 out of 10 girls in India have no knowledge of menstruation before their first period. Media messages in many countries continue to support the taboos, negative social norms and misconceptions about menstruation.
We need as well to make menstrual hygiene products more widely available and affordable. And these policies have to be coupled with increased efforts to provide universal and sustainable sanitation systems, access to clean water, and safe disposal.
Partners in the WASH sector are working to deliver progress in menstrual hygiene management. As one example, in Kenya, Zana Africa Foundation has developed health comics that educate girls in a fun, engaging way about health and hygiene around menstruation. They are also providing high-quality locally manufactured products. In India, the Center for Advocacy and Research is helping women empower each other through community self-help groups to counter prejudice around menstruation. Sanitation solutions — such as the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge — also aims to provide privacy and dignity to women during menstruation.
But if we are going to tackle taboos and drive progress, the fight can’t just be left to women. We all benefit, whatever our gender, from a world in which women can contribute fully and fairly.
That’s why this is a challenge that concerns us all and why I hope all fathers, sons and brothers will join me in helping spread the message that #MenstruationMatters to us all. Together we can identify and accelerate delivery of improved menstrual hygiene solutions that will empower women around the world to live lives of greater equity and dignity, every day of every month.
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Brian Arbogast leads the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's effort to bring groundbreaking innovations in sanitation technology. Arbogast was previously a corporate vice president at Microsoft Corporation, leading an international portfolio of research and development projects. More recently, he concentrated in cleantech and international development, driving market solutions to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges.
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