Amplifying Youth Voices Will Only Strengthen the Global Menstrual Health Movement
by Global Fund for Women & Pandemic Periods
Antonia Cañizares, Global Youth Council, Pandemic Periods, Ecuador
Liz Lum, Adolescent Girl Advisor, Global Fund for Women, Cameroon
Yande Banda, Adolescent Girl Advisor, Global Fund for Women, Zambia
Rachel Glantzberg, Global Youth Council, Pandemic Periods, USA
Ivy Kutswa, Global Youth Council, Pandemic Periods, Kenya
Dr. Jennifer Martin, Global Director, Pandemic Periods, Scotland
Menstrual health is a crucial part of sexual and reproductive health and rights for women, adolescent girls, transgender men, and non-binary people who menstruate. According to UNICEF (2023) approximately 1.8 billion people menstruate every month. Yet, many do not have access to safe and affordable period products, adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education, or environments free of menstrual stigma and shame. This can result in them not being able to attain their menstrual health, leading to period poverty.
The definition of menstrual health (2021) states that “menstrual health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not just the absence of disease or infirmity related to the menstrual cycle” This means that women, adolescent girls, transgender men, and non-bonary people who menstruate should have access to accurate and age-appropriate information about menstruation, use effective and affordable menstrual materials with supportive facilities and services, access timely diagnosis and treatment for menstrual cycle-related discomforts and disorders, experience positive and respectful environment free from stigma and psychological distress. They should also have the freedom to participate in all spheres of life without menstrual-related exclusion, restriction, discrimination, coercion, and violence.
Period poverty is a global issue that can affect anyone who menstruates at any stage across their reproductive life-cycle but can disproportionately impact adolescent girls. This can cause them to miss school which can result in extreme circumstances which lead to gender-based violence or child marriage. Adequate menstrual health programmes that address menstrual health holistically, create enabling environments, and promote rights-based approaches require insights from lived experience. The inclusion of the perspectives of adolescent girls and adolescents who menstruate in the co-design of intersectional, inclusive and rights-based menstrual health programmes, communications, and advocacy efforts could ensure contextual, cultural, and age-appropriate intervention that leads to the attainment of menstrual health.
Menstrual health movements worldwide focus on changing how people view menstrual health, not only as a water, sanitation, and hygiene issue, but also by raising awareness about the challenges regarding menstrual health being a human right and public health issue. The global menstrual health movement needs more youth voices, so it can continue to evolve to meet the needs of women, adolescent girls, and all people that menstruate! Including youth fosters positive social change, ensures inclusion, and many more.
In their words
“I know the struggle extends beyond participating in discussion spaces. Recently, a girl had an accidental leak during school hours while menstruating. I saw her and her friends, who were visibly upset, washing her pants in the school bathroom sink. The girl was temporarily wearing a large pair of pants from the “lost and found” bin. I was utterly taken aback, mainly because I realized the school did not have a backup plan in place for us. I told them hydrogen peroxide was useful for eliminating blood stains without soaking the garment. Sadly, it is another piece of knowledge not commonly shared with us in my country. Because menstrual education is not mandatory in Ecuadorian schools, our needs to learn about our bodies and health are being ignored, perpetuating the cycle of misconceptions, taboos, and stigma related to menstruation.”
Ecuadorian youth advocate for menstrual health
“Periods can end education for those who lack access to period products.This impact will last the rest of their lives and can inhibit prospects. In my role as an activist, I have gotten to speak with many students from the United States whose education has been hindered by period poverty. One girl told me that when she was younger, she would often reuse pads as her family could not afford additional supplies. This made her vulnerable to many infections, and led to physical and emotional pain that greatly affected her in and out of school. This is why young people need to sit at the table. It is young people who most see the effects of period poverty, and their actions will ensure that the only thing a period stops is a sentence”
Global Youth Council, Pandemic Periods, USA
“Young people, particularly young women and girls, experience the reality of menstruation health in their communities and are hence experts on the subject. We will be able to examine requirements such as access to period products, education on menstruation, and breaking down the stigma associated with menstruation by engaging their viewpoints in the global menstrual health movement. Young people bring fresh eyes and ideas to the table. As the next generation of leaders and activists, they have the power to shape the future of menstrual health policy and practice.”
Adolescent Girls Advisory Council, Global Fund for Women, Cameroon
“Youth voices in Kenya can be included by creating safe spaces and forums for them to air their opinions. This can be done in social settings such as places of worship,schools and public participation spaces where they are allowed to speak on issues related to menstrual health. Menstrual health movements can educate youth on issues to do with menstrual health to ensure that the youth know that it is not wrong to speak about menstrual health since many communities in Kenya see it as a taboo”
Global Youth Council, Pandemic Periods, Kenya
“The meaningful engagement of adolescents in all their diversity and intersectional identities when it comes to ending period poverty and menstrual stigma must be made mandatory at all decision making tables. Through an intergenerational, intersectional and multi stakeholder approach, we must involve girls in all their diversity in lobbying for bills to make menstrual hygiene products free within their individual countries through connecting them to members of parliament and policy makers as well as institutionalizing their leadership in intersectional settings that combat period poverty such as in schools and in marginalized settings such as refugee camps. Most importantly, however, we must fund girls to do this work. ABOLISH unpaid youth work and abolish it now!”
Adolescent Girls Advisory Council, Global Fund for Women, Zambia
Incorporating youth perspectives in the menstrual health movement is crucial for co-creating lasting and effective change. By engaging and empowering young people, prioritizing menstrual education, collaborating with diverse stakeholders, addressing gender norms, enhancing accessibility, investing in research, and monitoring progress, we can forge a path that places youth at the center of the conversation. Offering platforms that promote youth involvement in the menstrual health movement is essential for creating sustainable and long-lasting change since they are directly affected by these issues and can offer unique insights and solutions. Young people increasingly leverage social media and digital platforms to raise awareness about menstrual health, challenge stigma, and advocate for policies that improve access to menstrual hygiene products and education. By amplifying youth voices, the menstrual health movement can more effectively tackle gender inequality, ensuring that women, adolescent girls, transgender men and non-binary people, as well as men and boys are educated about menstruation and understand its implications on reproductive health and gender equity.
On May 28, we celebrate the annual Menstrual Hygiene Day - when movements around the world continue to elevate menstrual health as a critical issue in global development. It is a time to reflect on the progress made towards global menstrual health and to identify gaps and areas for improvement. This year, we are advocating for a platform for more youth voices from low- to middle-income countries to express their experience driving menstrual health advocacy in their context. By doing so, we empower them to take control of their menstrual health and well-being, ultimately contributing to a more equitable and inclusive society. Listening to and addressing the unique needs of young people is not only a moral imperative but also an essential step in shaping a healthier and more informed future for generations to come.