“End the stigma, Period.” The state of Menstrual Health and Hygiene in JRS

28 May 2024

JRS’s Global Education Team launched the new report, on the state of Menstrual Health and Hygiene in JRS in 2024. Girls participating in a project to promote and foster equal and inclusive access to education in Chad (Jesuit Refugee Service).
Girls participating in a project to promote and foster equal and inclusive access to education in Chad (Jesuit Refugee Service).

Having a period within fragile, conflict-affected, and violent settings is a protection issue. It is challenging to manage menstruation in a safe and dignified manner.

Globally, millions of girls and women do not have access to the items they need to manage their periods safely and hygienically, and free from embarrassment or harassment. Harmful, traditional beliefs and poverty fuel harmful menstruation-related barriers that prevent those who menstruate from accessing education and other vital services, as well as participating in social activities due to period myths, stigma, stereotypes, and taboos.

On Menstrual Hygiene Day, the 28th of May, Jill Drzewiecki, JRS Gender-Responsive Education Specialist, together with JRS’s Global Education Team launched the new report, on the “State of Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) in JRS in 2024”.

What do we mean by “Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH)”?

MHH encompasses much more than having access to affordable and clean materials for absorbing or collecting menstrual blood. MHH includes access and referral to health services, sanitation, and washing facilities, including safe and hygienic disposal of menstrual materials. MHH is about promoting positive social norms around menstruation, gender equity and equality, education, and self-reliance. Only by raising awareness of and knowledge about menstruation can JRS end the stigma surrounding it.

Why is it important to talk about MHH?

Imagine being a woman forced to flee the ongoing crises in Sudan, Ukraine, or another country. Picture the chaos, the fear etched on every face around you, and the relentless worry of your next meal or where you will sleep. Throughout this harrowing journey, an additional shadow looms over you – managing your period. As you flee conflict and seek refuge, you are left alone to face this intimate struggle. Your body becomes a private battleground. Every step you take and every decision you make is overshadowed by the pressing need to manage your period safely and with dignity in a world where these concerns are afterthoughts or entirely overlooked.

We have all seen images of mothers clutching their children’s hands while navigating the treacherous and uncertain paths of displacement. How often have we considered the challenges and dangers associated with managing menstruation while forced to flee?

Whether in an emergency such as the one described above or living in a refugee camp for years, visualise the daily scramble and stress associated with meeting basic needs: the gnawing worry of finding food and providing adequate shelter.  All the while, the reality of managing a period presses upon you. This neglected plight, already unimaginable to most of us, is often compounded by menstrual myths, stigma, stereotypes, and taboos.

What are some of the period myths, stigmas, stereotypes, and taboos that you encounter through your work with JRS?

In some places where JRS works, experiencing any pain during menstruation, such as menstrual cramps, is a sign of an ancestral curse. Some women and girls have experienced isolation during menstruation and are required to sit over a small hole or pit for the length of their periods. Only after their periods finish can they bathe and rejoin the larger family and community. While in other contexts at the time of menarche, a girl’s first occurrence of menstruation, a family hosts a party as a way of advertising that their daughter is ready for formal marriage or informal union even if under the age of 18 years.

These examples of traditional beliefs and practices are harmful and constitute a violation of the human rights of women and girls. This year, JRS’s MHH Campaign aims to address these challenges.

What role does JRS play?

One of JRS’s strategic framework goals is to increase access to and completion of secondary education, especially for girls.  JRS will not achieve this goal without addressing menstruation-related barriers to secondary school. For example, in some contexts where we work, male teachers do not allow female learners adequate time to go to the latrine and manage their periods. When taking longer than expected, girls report facing disciplinary action. This discourages them from attending school during their periods. In turn, missing school during one’s period has real-life impacts on attendance and performance and leads to dropout.

Overcoming these barriers means ensuring that girls and women have access to menstrual products and menstruation-friendly water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities. In addition, it is necessary for girls and women, as well as boys and men, to receive information and education about MHH.

Can you tell us about the report you’re about to launch?

This report is an opportunity for teams to reflect on how JRS is working to address menstruation-related barriers to our education and other programme areas.

Through this report, we share promising practices about MHH across JRS and recommendations for improving these interventions globally. It aims to increase awareness about the importance of MHH and the quantity and quality of MHH programming that can positively impact girls’ lives and “End the stigma, Period.”