The three-day event in Dakar highlights the need to explicitly include MHM in government strategies.
The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) in partnership with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the Government of Senegal, has just concluded a three-day policy workshop in Dakar aiming to inform, promote and lead governments to explicitly include Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) in their public policies.
Women menstruate for about 40 years over a lifetime. However, the vast majority of those living in developing countries have no water, no safe place to wash and clean with privacy, no adequate protections to absorb menstrual blood and no facilities to properly and safely dispose of sanitary protection waste. Most importantly they must suffer all this in silence since talking about menstruation is taboo. The policy workshop on explicitly integrating MHM and other unaddressed demands from users of sanitation and hygiene services was organised under the leadership of the Ministry of Water and Sanitation, Health and Environment jointly with WSSCC and UN Women from the 14th to the 16th of June. With about 56 participants, Ministries of Education, Gender, Planning, Finance, Health and Local Government from Senegal as well as the Ministry of Hygiene from Madagascar, Ministries of Sanitation and Hygiene from Cameroon and Niger in addition to NGOs and development partners also participated.
The three-day event was devoted to understanding the situation on sanitation and hygiene, MHM, gender equality in the areas of health, education and the environment and featured group work aimed at taking into account the needs of women for the integration of MHM in policies and strategies.
The Senegalese Ministry of Hydraulics and Sanitation has just approved the action plan for the implementation of its “National Strategy for Rural Sanitation” (developed in 2013). It also plans to make a review of its sectoral policy on “Water and Sanitation” and to revise existing manuals and procedures in the sector. Similarly, the Ministry of Health and Social Action is considering a revision of its “Code of Hygiene” and of developing a health policy, which is another opportunity to put MHM into action.
“This period of review of policy documents provides an opportunity to integrate issues of equity and equality in the sector, including menstrual hygiene which is a gateway to address the specific needs of girls and women in the water and sanitation sector,” said Axel De Ville, Deputy Regional Director of UN Women in his opening speech.
“UN Women calls for the integration of gender equality in all areas of development to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs),” he added.
The silence around menstruation is at the origin of many myths and taboos that have negative consequences on women and girls’ health, affecting their presence at the workplace and their attendance at school. This silence also contributes to the lack of MHM in public policy and the lack of correct information.
“All over the world the theme of menstrual hygiene management is covered with a veil of secrecy and shame,” said WSSCC’s Programme Manager for Networking and Knowledge Management, Archana Patkar.
“The right to sanitation and hygiene of women and girls, in particular target 6.2 of the SDGs, cannot be realized without taking into account the need for good management of menstrual hygiene explicitly articulated in national policies , financed and monitored in practice,” she added.
“A fair public policy must support the needs of the greatest number, the poorest and the most vulnerable.”
Together with UN Women, WSSCC is working to implement a joint programme on Gender, Hygiene and Sanitation in West and Central Africa, aimed at changing policies and behaviours in the region to improve women and girls’ human right to water and sanitation.
The programme has made real progress in breaking the silence on menstruation, involving policy and decision makers at all levels and initiating practical work on the ground to adapt facilities in order to recognize the very real sanitation and hygiene needs of women and girls.
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