What are the UN conventions regarding the menstrual awareness?

What are the UN conventions regarding menstrual awareness?

UN conventions regarding menstrual awareness_ichhori.webp

On May 28 2019 the first-ever menstrual hygiene day was celebrated. This day was created to highlight the discrepancies and unavailability of menstrual hygiene and the need to standardize menstrual hygiene management. Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is a term that has recently emerged among the international development community to refer to the process of handling menstruation. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (2012), good MHM is defined as access to necessary resources (e.g. menstrual materials to absorb or collect menstrual blood effectively, soap and water), facilities (a private place to wash, change and dry reusable menstrual materials in privacy during menstruation, and an adequate disposal system for menstrual materials, from collection point to final disposal point), and education about MHM for males and females. In a recent report by TOI, over 23 million girls drop out of school every year due to inadequate MHM, which includes access to sanitary napkins, awareness of menstruation, and access to clean toilets with running water and disposal facilities. 

The need to spread awareness

Menstruation is as much a social issue, as it is a biological one. When a girl enters into menarche, it opens up a whole new way of life, and along with it a whole new set of vulnerabilities. The body goes through a host of changes, and one needs to make way for the discomfort, the mood swings, and the hormonal changes associated with menstruation. 

Along with the biological changes, many adolescent girls are exposed to the social stigma associated with menstruation. Harassment and social exclusion are rampant. Gender inequality, discriminatory social norms, cultural taboos, poverty, and lack of basic services like toilets and sanitary products can all cause menstrual health and hygiene needs to go unmet. The taboos associated with menstruation have been running in society for generations, and have far-reaching consequences. Social exclusion has an effect on school and community participation, which in turn affects education. According to the recently released fifth round of the National Family Health Survey (2019-21), the use of unhygienic menstrual methods of protection among women (age 15-24 years) is almost three times that of their urban counterparts. Women in the same age group with no schooling are almost six times more likely to use an unhygienic method. And those from the poorest wealth quintile are ten times more likely to use an unhygienic method. Thus, it's a vicious cycle that continues from mother to daughter and from society to individual. 

The only way to break the cycle is to bring awareness and provide avenues for menstrual health care including easy and cheap access to sanitary pads, running water and clean toilets, and openness amongst family members about periods. The shroud of silence needs to be broken to make accurate scientific knowledge and hygienic practices to prevent infections easily available and discussed openly within families. This will go a long way in breaking taboos and providing support to the menstruating individual. 

What the UN did in this regard

In July 2018 United Nations Department of social and economic affairs outlined its agenda in a paper titled “Pushing menstrual health in the 2030 agenda” 

Four key areas were identified for improvement in menstrual health and hygiene

  1. Social support

  2. Knowledge and skills

  3. Facilities and services

  4. Access to absorbent materials and supportive supplies

It is mandated that all governments articulate menstrual hygiene management in relevant policies. The policy changes must be backed with a dedicated budget and resources for the implementation of said policies, especially in schools and educational institutions where the majority of the adolescent-affected population is present. The availability and sustainable management of running water and sanitation for all is another imperative factor highlighted by the UN. Several programs were outlined to promote gender equality. Menstruation awareness and its role in society is considered a sustainable developmental goal(SDG) and it was stated that with these changes “every Woman and girl is enabled to manage her menstruation hygienically, with confidence, with dignity, and without stigma so that they are empowered to fully and equally participate in society and live a healthy and productive life”


The need for menstrual health management(MHM) was divided into the following factors, to be dealt with individually:

  1. Availability-  Availability of adequate menstrual hygiene products like sanitary pads, toilets, and running water in those toilets.

  2. Accessibility- Physical accessibility of functional toilets with running importance within the residence, schools, and the workplace. 

  3. Affordability- Taxes levied on sanitary pads and the already high cost make them unaffordable for certain economic sections. Working towards reducing cost and making sanitary pads readily available to everyone is an important factor to prevent infections in females.

  4. Safety- Easily available sanitary pads at a low cost aim to reduce chances of infection in women and girls, thereby aiming to make the menstrual cycle a safe and regular part of her life. The stigma associated with menstruation caused several young girls to reuse old cloth pads which may increase the chances of a bacterial infection or even toxic shock syndrome.

  5. Privacy and Dignity- The need for the restrooms to be private and safe. Destigmatisation of menstruation to obtain sanitary pads without feeling embarrassment or shame. 


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