On May 28th, the first global Menstrual Hygiene Day will ‘break the bloody taboo’ and open up the conversation about menstruation. With more than 130 international and local organizations on board, people are coming together to raise awareness about the fundamental role that menstrual hygiene management plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential.
S2S spoke to Danielle Keiser from WASH United, the Berlin-based initiator and award-winning international social impact organization that uses the power of sports superstars, interactive games and positive communications to change attitudes and behaviors around sanitation and hygiene at scale.
S2S: How did the idea to have a Menstrual Hygiene Day come to life? How did your organization become aware of the problems related to menstrual hygiene?
Danielle Keiser/WASH United: Of all the issues related to water, sanitation & hygiene (WASH), menstrual hygiene management (MHM) has only recently become a buzzword in the development sector. Menstruation is normal. Period. However, because menstruation is soaked in embarrassment, fear and misinformation, we at WASH United saw an opportunity to use our advocacy and educational strengths to elevate the importance of such a critical issue – especially from a health and hygiene perspective. In May 2013, WASH United pioneered May #MENSTRAVAGANZA, a 28-day social media campaign cycle dedicated to generating awareness about menstruation and the general significance of menstrual hygiene to ensure the health and education of women and girls worldwide. The idea of creating a Menstrual Hygiene Day emerged when we saw how positively the campaign was being received and the momentum it was generating. Thus, the idea to create a day that makes these sentiments concret was born. And boy has it taken off! One year ago, we had barely 5 partners. Now, we have over 130 global partners including Diva Cup, Plan International, WaterAid, and HelloFlo as well as countless grassroots organizations all teaming up from across sectors to break the silence and talk about the importance of menstrual hygiene. It’s almost overwhelming how much interest and support there has been!
S2S: In the Western world the menstrual hygiene of a woman seems to be nothing worth talking about. Why did you name it Menstrual Hygiene Day and what kind of awareness do you want to raise?
Danielle Keiser/WASH United: Menstrual hygiene is fundamental to our health, education and human rights. And we completely take advantage of it. In fact, it’s become such a given to have pads and tampons at our disposal (literally) that we rarely think about how and why they are important. Without water and soap, how would we keep ourselves clean during our periods? Without toilets and restrooms, where would we go to change our tampons? What if we had no tampons? Or pads? What would we use?
Menstrual Hygiene Day is not only about the biological process of growing up into a woman, but also about addressing the challenges that exist in many developing countries. In some contexts, natural materials such as mud, leaves, dung or animal skins are used to manage the menstrual flow in the absence of clean cloth or feminine care products. As a result,potential vaginal infections caused by these inadequate sanitary protection materials, poor access to soap and water, or infrequent changing of the sanitary protection materials is one aspect. Missing school and productive workdays because of the lack of toilets is another. On top of that, the continued silence around menstruation paired with limited access to factual guidance at home and in schools results in millions of women and girls having very little knowledge about what is happening to their bodies when they menstruate and how to deal with it.
S2S: What is happening on May 28? And what can visitors expect to see within the events taking place from May 28-June 2nd?
Danielle Keiser/WASH United: Partners from all over the world are coming together to put on events or activities, such as exhibitions, film screenings, walks to their local government buildings, all with the intention of helping to raise awareness and break the silence. What’s also wonderful is that governments are getting involved too, acknowledging that it is unacceptable that girls are missing school because of lack of toilets or sanitary napkins, as in what will be happening on Menstrual Hygiene Day in Nepal, Kenya and India. Check out the other activities our partners are planning all over the world!
In Berlin, we will be hosting a weeklong exhibition called ‘Breaking the Bloody Taboo’ in English and in German from May 28 (Menstrual Hygiene Day) to June 2.
Each night, we have an awesome program lined up:
- On Wednesday, May 28 at 19:00, Gesine Schwan will speak followed by a workshop by local partners Ruby Cup and Luna Pads on sustainable feminine care products
- On Friday, May 30 at 20:00 will be the world premiere screening of ‘Monthlies’ (a 25-minute film) followed by a male menstrual performance
- On Saturday May 31 at 19:30, we’ll screen ‘Monthlies’ once more followed by a bloody hilarious stand-up comedy show.
Wine and edutainment will be served! More information can be found here.
S2S: WASH United also was involved in celebrating the first UN-official World Toilet Day on November 19th, 2013. What were you able to achieve and what would you like to achieve with Menstrual Hygiene Day?
Danielle Keiser/WASH United: Last year, WASH United created a campaign called “Celebrate the Toilet!” to pay tribute to the most underappreciated hero in human history. The campaign aimed at creating a global buzz about the almighty value of the toilet and to inspire awareness about the global sanitation and hygiene crisis, drawing attention to the fact that there are still 2.5 billion people in this world who live without access to adequate sanitation every single day. The power of campaign was not only in its positive, fun-based approach, but also in the fact that like Menstrual Hygiene Day, it was designed to act as an open platform for people beyond the WASH sector to become interested in advocacy and engagement on an issue that affects more than a third of the world’s population.
Menstrual Hygiene Day aims to create a united voice for women and girls around the world, helping to break the silence and confront the taboos that often prohibit girls and women from reaching their full potential. We hope that May 28th acts as an occasion to address the challenges and hardships many women and girls face during their menstruation, but also to highlight the positive and innovative solutions being taken to address these challenges. An excellent opportunity to engage in policy dialogue, MH Day actively advocates for the integration of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) into global and national policies, programs and projects.
Danielle Keiser/WASH United: First and foremost, people can start the conversation about menstruation amongst their friends, family and more. The more people talk about it, the less taboo it becomes. Together with Eco Femme, we created ’28 Conversations’, a guide to help facilitate the discussion.
People can also share this infographic on social media, or generally get involved online using the hashtag #MenstruationMatters. And don’t forget to sign up for the MHM newsletter so you can continue to help break the silence about this neglected issue!