We know that menstrual health is a core component of global health, and yet the human-rights based argument is falling short of engaging funders to become involved in this space. Investing in menstrual health is central to advancing gender equality as a whole and has impact that reaches across economics, education, and health.
That women have the right to health is the cornerstone of many funding policies, but the inclusion of menstrual health within that context has been slow. Programming dollars are already stretched – but what if including menstrual health improves outcomes in existing programmes? Making the Case for Investing in Menstrual Health and Hygiene (now available in French and Spanish) was born out of the need to show that investing in menstrual health will offer valuable financial returns.
While preparing the report, one of the key opportunities we identified is for funding organizations and NGOs to designate a menstrual health focal point within their ranks. Until then, we would like to offer our perspective on the most significant opportunities for investments in menstrual health.
Investment opportunities in menstrual health
1. Integration with existing programming for better outcomes
Menstrual Health cuts across many different sectors, from Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights (SRHR) to Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), so investments here have a huge opportunity for impact. Incorporating menstrual health into the foundational decision-making process for SRHR and WASH can lead to cost savings in the long term, especially in terms of national health care spending.
Poor access to gender-sensitive WASH facilities limits menstruators’ ability to manage periods privately and hygienically, and research has shown that inadequate menstrual health management can lead to reproductive tract infections. At a basic level, sanitation services should include private toilets with bins for disposal of menstrual products and a washbasin equipped with soap and water.
Menstrual health is also an important entry point to more general conversations around sexual health. It turns out that one of the most common reasons women discontinue birth control is over fears and misconceptions about changes to their bleeding patterns, so adding a menstrual health component to sexuality education can increase contraception uptake and continuance.
2. Building the evidence base to increase health and wellbeing
To understand and ensure menstruators’ overall health and well-being, we need a more holistic view of the menstrual experience. There is a wealth of qualitative information around menstruation, but a large gap in quantifying the menstrual experience makes it difficult to draw comparisons and design solutions that truly meet the needs of menstruators. Work is currently underway to create the methods and tools necessary to evaluate the status of menstrual health and the efficacy of interventions, and funding this type of research will see exponential returns when it comes to implementing time and cost-effective programs.
3. Innovation for better products and service delivery
Despite being an integral part of the human life experience, nearly 25 per cent of menstruators (500 million people) report not having what they need to manage their periods. Innovation in the product space can address problems like waste disposal, environmental impact, and materials costs. Still, the truth is there is no one-size-fits-all approach to menstrual health products and services. Menstruators must be offered choices when it comes to what works the best for their lives and bodies, so there is plenty of room for new products and solutions on the market.
When it comes to managing our health, the importance of digitalization has never been more apparent than it is now. With the Covid-19 pandemic, telehealth and digital health tools have become necessities for many people worldwide. Apps and games are an invaluable means of providing essential and accurate health information to young people in particular. For example, period tracking apps allow menstruators to better understand their bodies and are a logical way to deliver information around sexual and reproductive health.
Cristina Ljungberg and Wendy Anderson are co-founders of The Case for Her.