Human rights council discusses menstruation for the first time

Human Rights Council 50th Session – panel discussion on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality

Excellencies, friends,

I am pleased to address you on a topic the Human Rights Council is discussing for the very-first time.

In the last decade, a vibrant and diverse menstrual movement has emerged across the world. This movement has been critical in breaking the silence around menstruation and its recognition as a human rights, gender equality and public health issue.

Within the United Nations, menstrual health and hygiene has been increasingly addressed, including by this Council. Likewise, in the context of the SDGs, a first set of indicators to monitor progress on menstrual health and hygiene globally were recently introduced by the World Health Organization and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene.

At the national level, States have adopted different measures to address menstruation, through the reduction or elimination of taxation of menstrual products, the improvement of women and girls’ access to information and knowledge about menstrual hygiene, support to access quality menstrual products or the introduction of paid menstrual leave for women experiencing painful periods.

In every region of the world, young feminist activists have been leading grass-root campaigns and initiatives, including in social media, to challenge stigma, taboos, gender inequality and period poverty.

Speaking their truth and making their voices heard, these activists are significantly contributing to making clear that menstrual experiences of women and girls are not homogenous but shaped by intersecting factors such as age, gender, race, disability, economic, social, migration and other status and contexts, be it in peace, conflict, disaster or within a health crisis.

While we should celebrate these achievements, we still have a long way to go to achieve menstrual health for all concerned.

Around the world, women and girls and other people who menstruate continue to face barriers in the realization of their menstrual health deeply rooted in stigma and harmful stereotypes regarding menstruation, reinforcing patriarchal and discriminatory systems and societies, and resulting in denial of their human rights and further gender inequality.

For instance, the stigmatization of menstruation as something shameful and in need to be hidden often results in women and girls experiencing menstruation negatively, impacting their ability to make informed choices on aspects related to their menstrual health, from seeking to learn more about their menstrual cycle and accessing sexual and reproductive health services, to understanding the use of menstrual products.

The stereotypical portrayal of women who menstruate as overly unreliable and unfit for decision-making can result in lower earnings and fewer responsibilities, opportunities and promotions in the workplace. The lack of adequate water, toilet facilities and sanitation in schools meeting the needs of menstruating girls affect their access to and attendance at school.

Prohibitions to attend religious gatherings and requirements of isolation continue to impact, in many contexts, women and girls’ ability and right to make free choices about their participation in cultural, social, economic and public life.

Likewise, the harmful belief and practice, in many societies, that a girl is ready for marriage after her first menstrual cycle, exposes them to a heightened risk of child, early and forced marriage, sexual violence and early and unintended pregnancies, jeopardizing their education and economic opportunities, violating their rights and putting their lives in danger.

Friends,

Menstrual health is an integral part of sexual and reproductive health and rights. It is an important determinant for the realization of all human rights of women and girls in all their diversity, the achievement of gender equality and the Sustainable Development Goals. To reach these goals, it is critical that policymakers, practitioners and other relevant actors adopt a comprehensive, multi-sectoral and full life cycle approach to menstrual health, grounded in human rights.

Importantly, such an approach requires the implementation of a wide range of international human rights obligations by States, in particular those related to:

  • Addressing the stigma, harmful stereotypes and gender-based discriminatory social norms and practices impacting the menstrual experiences of women and girls, including groups of women and girls facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.
  • Creating an enabling environment where women and girls in all their diversity are empowered to exercise their autonomy to make informed choices about their lives and bodies, including their menstrual health, free of stigma, violence and discrimination.
  • Ensuring women and girls have access to justice and remedies for violations of their sexual and reproductive health and rights, including rights related to menstrual health.

I wish you a fruitful discussion.

Thank you.

Source: OHCHR, press release and platform.