By Purvaja S. Kavattur, Staff Associate at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights
In November 2019, Kenya adopted the world’s first stand-alone policy on menstrual hygiene. India has been integrating menstrual hygiene efforts in its sanitation policies for more than 10 years. And in the United States, we are counting down the States that still tax menstrual products. – These are just some of the policy developments in the menstrual health space.
Over the next year, the Institute for the Study of Human Rights will conduct a review of policies on menstrual hygiene and health policy in India, Kenya, Senegal and the United States. Purvaja S. Kavattur, the project researcher explains: “We are excited to work alongside in-country stakeholders to learn from their expertise and compile lessons learnt to address the marginalization of menstruating bodies. We hope to explore what’s happening in terms of policy development and who benefits: Do policies matter for the lives of menstruating individuals? And do they matter for all people?”
Over the past ten years there have been significant developments in the nascent field of menstrual health. Increasingly, countries are adopting legislative and policy frameworks on menstrual hygiene and health. Policies cover different aspects such as menstrual hygiene, de-taxing menstrual products, or ensuring provision of menstrual products to specific population groups. South Asia and Eastern Africa house two hubs for menstrual health policy action and our selected countries are at the forefront of these developments. It is therefore an opportune time to reflect on recent policy developments.
However, amidst growing momentum, there are risks of adopting policies that are narrow in scope and that focus on hygiene needs, infrastructure and access to products. Menstrual health also affects education, economic security, empowerment and self-confidence. As such, there is a need for a more comprehensive understanding of menstrual health as it is shaped by menstrual stigma, healthcare access, educational attainment, as well as civic and public life, which should be addressed through policies. A more comprehensive approach that examines the social determinants of menstrual health is needed to better identify causes of marginalization, substantive foci beyond menstrual hygiene, and the subsequent policy gaps.
Inga Winkler, the project’s PI, explains: “We are at a critical point. We want to move along with this momentum and continue building off the work already happening on the ground. But in doing so we want to ensure that policy developments in this emerging field are grounded in human rights principles of non-discrimination and equality, participation, and accountability. We hope to identify what levers forward policies grounded in human rights considerations to alleviate the marginalization of menstruating bodies.”
Through this review we seek to explore whose voices, interests and needs are centered and whose are marginalized in these policies and the processes leading to their adoption, and how this influences the framing of policies both in terms of their scope and the targeted populations. We will therefore conduct a process-oriented review informed by human rights principles as well as substantive human rights guarantees in the four countries.
The project is funded through a grant from the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, which has been active in supporting governments in developing policies and programs on menstrual hygiene for years.
We hope that in conducting this review, we will uncover ways policies normalize and destigmatize menstruation, shape budget allocations and service provision, and create mechanisms for accountability. We hope that our review will highlight areas of success, areas of improvements, and gaps to help create a roadmap for other governments looking into expanding their menstrual health and hygiene policies.