Did you know that more than 800 million women and girls between the age of 15 and 49 are menstruating right now? Some of them are your co-workers, friends, partners and supervisors. For some, the topic can be an uncomfortable one, but it is also a central issue for women’s health and opportunity.
To those in the developed world, menstruation can be a minor nuisance, accompanied occasionally by cramps, backaches and frequent visits to the bathroom, something that can be managed safely, hygienically and easily. But not all women enjoy access to the facilities, products and health education they need – in the workplace or elsewhere. In fact, some adolescent girls have no knowledge about what it means to have their period. This can contribute to school drop-out rates, low-work attendance, poor health management and — at times — stigma and discrimination linked to cultural taboos about menstruation.
What does this have to do with The IDB and safeguards? In fact, many basic human rights come into play here: the right to water entitles every person to access a sufficient amount of clean and affordable water for hygiene and personal use; the right to sanitation is the right to access excreta and wastewater facilities and services with privacy and dignity. Both rights are contained in Art. 11 and 12 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), ratified by most countries in Latin America in the Caribbean.
Lack of adequate hygiene facilities also exacerbates gender inequality. Gender-unfriendly infrastructure undermines the ability for women to succeed and thrive.
By instituting gender safeguards, The IDB must design operations that prevent and mitigate any risks of gender-based exclusion in its projects. One of the best places to improve the lives of girls and women is through water and sanitation. This means ensuring that all projects are designed so that men and women can take advantage of opportunities equally.
Several studies in Bangladesh made important discoveries on this topic. One concluded that 60% of women use rags from the factory floor for menstrual cloths, containing chemicals and dyes that can be harmful. Another study found that 73% of female Bangladeshi garment workers missed an average of six days work and pay a month due to infections caused by unsanitary menstrual materials. This is bad for business and the economic viability of these women. An intervention to change this saw absenteeism drop to 3%, resulting in significant economic gains for workers and factory owners.
IDB is partnering with its stakeholders and grantees to make these interventions and programs commonplace. The Caracol Industrial Park (PIC) in Northern Haiti employs roughly 9000 employees — over 60% are women. Like many female manufacturers around the world, they work long hours and come from rural areas where traditional methods (such as cloths) for managing menstruation are used. Bathrooms in the facilities do not include access to sanitary napkins, water, soap or a place to dispose of menstrual products in a safe and secure manner. The IDB has leveraged the support of our safeguards teams to lead a dialogue on the issue, and stakeholders are open to improving menstrual hygiene opportunities of women at the PIC through education and additional access.
Lack of menstrual hygiene facilities can also impact the environment. If not disposed of properly, these products can cause sewer system blockages, placing further stress on wastewater treatment infrastructure. In this way, better sanitation facilities benefits cities and governments as well.
What can you do?
- Project Design: Menstrual Hygiene Management rarely appears in development strategies, national government policies or advocacy agendas. Projects need to include improved sanitation facilities that allow women and girls to manage their periods safely, effectively and with dignity. That means privacy, door locks, soap, water, electricity and space to change their menstrual products.
- Access: Promote access to affordable and culturally appropriate menstrual hygiene products through open dialogue with government agencies, civil society organizations and private sector companies.
- Compliance: Comply with Regional, International and National Human Rights conventions and laws and IDB policy.
- Engagement: Make sure that public consultations and grievance mechanisms provide a space for women to voice their needs and opinions on the issue.
- Budget: Ensure sufficient funding for the menstrual hygiene promotion, training, and infrastructure.
Top Photo by: Kheel Center / CC BY 2.0