In both low/middle and high-income countries menstrual health interventions have tended to focus on product provision. This detracts from the core issue surrounding menstruation: cultural stigma. Accordingly, in 2018 the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council called upon Member States to:
“address the widespread stigma and shame surrounding menstruation and menstrual hygiene by ensuring access to factual information thereon, addressing the negative social norms around the issue and ensuring universal access to hygienic products and gender-sensitive facilities, including disposal options for menstrual products”
Social norms surrounding menstruation underpin and perpetuate a lack of access to products through their impact on how those who menstruate are perceived and valued. These taboos manifest globally, even where menstruators can afford ‘appropriate’ products:
“I went on the internet to learn more about my period when I was 9 because I didn’t know what it was, I used a help line to find out and they were rubbish!” UK Student to Irise.
“I developed really early and you know how things go, I told one person who told more people and I was teased at school because I was the first” UK Student to Irise.
“One time I was chased from home to go and bring test results from the health centre by my parents because they thought I was showing signs of pregnancy just because I told them my tummy was hurting. We were three people in the house and I remember for two weeks there was no conversation between us and nothing I did was right for them. My younger sister hid in a pit latrine for some hours one day because she too had been accused of being pregnant. All this was because it was taboo to talk about your period.” Ugandan young woman to Irise
The shame of blood leaking through your skirt, boys calling you names…makes you hate being a young healthy woman.” Ugandan young woman to Irise
The role of taboos in perpetuating gender equity cannot be underestimated. Menstrual stigma must be eradicated to enable menstruators to exercise their human rights.
The Stop the taboo: period Consortium is a group of menstrual health researchers and practitioners who identify that the experience of menstruation transcends geopolitical boundaries, and that menstrual product provision alone is not sustainable, nor does it address overall well-being. Consortium Members call for the interrogation and dismantling of menstrual taboos to accomplish universal sanitation and gender equity, and are interested in understanding how this could be achieved through the application of community-based participatory action research approaches. The Consortium initially consists of Members with expertise in two high income countries (United Kingdom and Australia) and two low/middle income regions (East Africa and Melanesia), working together to secure funding for their research, with the potential to invite members from other regions as the work progresses.
Dr Dani Barrington, Lecturer in Water, Sanitation and Health, University of Leeds, UK; Honorary Fellow, University of Queensland, Australia
Dr Gill Main, Associate Professor in Child Poverty, University of Leeds, UK
Dr Lata Narayanaswamy, Lecturer in International Development, University of Leeds, UK
Dr Julie Balen, Lecturer in Global Health, University of Sheffield, UK
Elizabeth Gumbaketi, PhD student (Menstruation in Papua New Guinea), James Cook University, Australia
Dr Nina Hall, Senior Lecturer in Planetary Health, University of Queensland, Australia
Relmah Harrington, MPh (Health) student, James Cook University, Australia; Lecturer in Nursing and Midwifery, Pacific Adventist University, Solomon Islands
Dr Litea Meo-Sewabu, Lecturer in Social Work and Social Policy, University of the South Pacific, Fiji
Dr Joaniter Nankabirwa, Assistant Lecturer in Clinical Epidemiology, Makerere University, Uganda
Dr Michelle Redman-MacLaren, Senior Research Fellow (Decolonising Public Health through Action Research), James Cook University, Australia; Adjunct Academic in Centre for Indigenous Health Equity Research, Central Queensland University, Australia; Distinguished Friend, Pacific Adventist University, Papua New Guinea
Dr Camilla Røstvik, Principal Investigator, UK Menstruation Research Network; Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow, University of St Andrews, UK
John Ssendagire, Lecturer in Child Health and Development, Makerere University, Uganda
Bethany Suggett, PhD student (Menstrual attitudes and masculinities), University of York, UK
Dr Ben Tidwell, Harvard University, USA
Professor Hazel Barrett, Professor in Development Geography, Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University, UK
Professor Chris Bobel, Associate Professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts, USA