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New menstrual health definition to boost action

Published on: 25/05/2021

A collaboration of experts has drawn up a new definition on menstrual health to advance advocacy and coherent action.

Since its first celebration in 2014, menstrual hygiene day (MH Day) has been observed every 28 May. It has morphed into a bigger, better and even more exciting event with sector players and actors building momentum for championing menstrual action globally. A scenario that was unlikely a decade ago. Just when I had started my journey in menstrual health, engaging other men and boys to support women and girls to experience menstruation without shame or fear but with dignity. What many may be unaware of is that 28 May is symbolic, in the sense that May is the 5th month of the year and the average length of menstruation is 5 days every month. And a typical menstrual cycle averages 28 days.

Notes from the Global Coalition on MHM in 2019, notes by visualsensemaking.eu

The Global Menstrual Health and Hygiene Collective was established to drive and guide improved investment in menstrual health through evidence-based advocacy (drawing courtesy of visualsensemaking.eu)

A new definition drawn up by a collaboration of experts including Dr Julie Hennegan describes menstrual health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle. This definition highlights the requirements for achieving good menstrual health. These requirements include: information about the menstrual cycle and self-care; menstrual materials (both reusable and disposable), facilities and services to care for the body during menstruation including adequate, safe and hygienic disposal mechanisms for used menstrual material; early identification and diagnosis, care, and treatment of menstrual discomforts and disorders; a positive and respectful environment that minimises psychological distress; and freedom to participate in all aspects of life without any menstrual-related hindrance.

The definition recognises that there are people who may not be women or girls but still experience menstruation. This aspect is fundamental in ensuring inclusivity, equality and non-discrimination in developing policies and designing interventions that are sensitive to lived experiences, needs and circumstances of all menstruators. The definition further recognises that people who menstruate may not experience regular bleeding and that the absence of menstruation can be a source of anxiety and/or stress. In addressing menstrual health complications, the definition focuses on timely accessibility of diagnosis, treatment and care for menstrual cycle-related discomforts and disorders, including access to appropriate health services and resources, pain relief, and strategies for self-care. Menstrual self-care has been promoted throughout the definition, hence empowering people who menstruate to break the silence on complications such as endometriosis in good time to commence treatment and care early enough.

As we pause and reflect on how far countries have progressed in promoting menstrual accessibility, menstrual availability and menstrual education, an achievement worth reckoning is obtaining a definition that shapes the future of menstrual health in the post-pandemic era. Under the theme of MH Day 2021 ‘It’s Time For Action’, the new definition inspires stepping up efforts to put an end to period stigma and period poverty - elements that have been associated with exacerbating vulnerabilities menstruating women and girls face, especially those living in rural areas and informal settings.

The definition developed by the Global Menstrual Collective Terminology Action Group will trigger the much needed quantum leap in unifying, guiding and informing menstrual-related advocacy, policy, practice and research. To a greater extent, the definition can be used to drive innovations for improving menstrual health and developing indicators against which to monitor and report progress. Marking world MH Day 2021, the definition allows us to move the needle in the direction of what matters most post-COVID-19 by stimulating action across the sector through planning and budgeting for related health priorities such as sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as well as adolescent girls’ and women’s health.

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