WASH SERIES: Menstruation Matters


This is the first of a three-part series focusing on issues surrounding water, sanitation and hygiene.

In international development, this issues of water, sanitation and hygiene are brought under the collective term ‘WASH’. These three factors are inextricably linked and play a vital role in the progress of the Millennium Development Goals. WASH issues create a huge impact on the global burden of disease. This burden is placed disproportionately on women and girls. It is therefore fitting that the first of this three part series focuses on the intersection between sanitations and women’s health, in particular menstrual hygiene.

The first issue surround menstrual hygiene is that it is largely a taboo topic. This makes this issue very hard to resolve. How can a large global issue be solved if there is no open dialogue about it?

One of the key problems is that women in developing nations don’t have access, can’t afford, or are too embarrassed to purchase items such as tampons and sanitary pads. In fact, in some cases ‘natural materials such as mud, leaves, dung or animal skins are used to manage the menstrual flow’ (UNESCO 2013, Puberty Education and Menstrual Hygiene Management).  There are indeed many issues surrounding menstrual hygiene.
Society’s stigmatisation of menstruation is not limited to developing nations. Just last month, menstrual hygiene was brought to attention in Australia in light of the tampon tax. The movement against the so-called ‘tampon tax’ gained momentum as women around Australia discovered that tampons carry 10% GST. Unlike other products such as sunscreen and condoms (which are not taxed) tampons are deemed ‘non-essential’ and therefore carry GST. 

Outraged, this resulted in women across the nation taking to an online petition which gained 90,000 signatories. Ultimately, this call for action was rejected by Treasurer Joe Hockey. But, the tampon tax isn’t just an issue of politics. It reveals a fundamental flaw in the way society thinks about menstruation.

The good news is that dialogue on the issue is opening up. This year marked the second year ‘Menstrual Hygiene Day’ took place. Not-for-profits and bodies such as the United Nations, are increasingly collecting data so we can better understand the problem. There are also an increasing number of social enterprises working towards solving this complex, multi-faceted challenge.

So why should you open up the dialogue around menstruation hygiene?

Because it impacts the lives of women and girls around the world. Period.

If you want to learn more about menstrual hygiene check out this report by Water Aid.

Until next time,


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