About the Menstrual Health Management Symposium

Introduction

The onset of puberty and the menstruation cycle is a fundamental and healthy aspect of the existence of women and girls. Menstrual health management is directly linked to the fulfillment of human rights and, specifically, to reproductive rights, both as a precondition for attaining rights such as health or education, and also as a matter of dignity in its own right. Menstrual health management is an integral component to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 4 (Quality Education), 5 (Gender Equality), 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production); and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development. It is also essential for the advancement of the African Union Agenda 2063, and is a key element in implementing the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health 2016-2030.

Providing girls and women with the necessary information, resources and facilities required to manage their menstrual cycle, from menarche to menopause, is important for their health, well-being, mobility, and dignity. Yet, many girls and women in East and Southern Africa, especially those who live in poor areas and those who have been displaced or affected by political, economic and social emergencies, have little or no access to age-appropriate information on menstrual health, management facilities and products that are accessible, effective, comfortable, convenient, affordable and safe to use. This hinders their daily activities, leads to stigma and discrimination, isolates them from their friends and local communities, increases the risk of school absence and drop-out, affects work performance, and has negative implications for their reproductive and mental health.

As a result of strengthened global and localized advocacy and an increased body of evidence to document the challenges faced by adolescent girls and women during their menstrual periods, the issue of menstrual health management has gained greater attention from policy makers, programmers, researchers, development practitioners and private sector companies in recent years. Today, many countries in Africa have incorporated menstrual health management into their adolescent sexual and reproductive health programmes, school health, gender, workplace and/or water and sanitation (WASH) policies and strategies.

Where education about menstrual health management and puberty is available to students in and out of school, it is considered an important platform for introduction of comprehensive sexuality education, which provides a wider range of information and knowledge about sexual and reproductive health, including HIV prevention, contraception, pregnancy and sexual and gender-based violence, and empowers young girls with skills and assets to make informed decisions and engage in decision-making that affects their lives. 

Menstrual health management is now widely integrated into cross-sectoral coordination mechanisms and national education and health systems, curricula and materials, in humanitarian responses and in ongoing research on product acceptability and impact, learning, monitoring and evaluation. In addition, many countries are introducing a wider range of menstrual health management products, including locally manufactured reusable and disposable pads and menstrual cups, and are establishing new distribution channels.

However, in spite of this progress, most of these efforts remain undocumented, limited in geographical coverage, lacking a strong evidence base, and are largely donor dependent.

More needs to be done to strengthen high-level commitment, coordination, and knowledge sharing of menstrual health management throughout the life cycle. There is also a need to develop effective and innovative approaches to supply management and distribution, and to ensure financial resources to sustain efforts and bring programmes to scale across the African continent.

It is against this background that UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Office (UNFPA ESARO) and the Department of Women in the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa and selected partners convened the first East and Southern African symposium on menstrual health management.

Purpose

The purpose of the symposium was to strengthen commitment and build on the latest evidence base, to move from research to action, and to demonstrate innovative, sustainable and scalable models to address the menstrual health management needs of adolescent girls and women throughout their menstrual life cycle in East and Southern Africa. 

Objectives

The aim of the symposium was to:

  • Create a platform for high-level dialogue to strengthen the policy and programme environment and enable sustainable menstrual health management responses at regional and national levels;
  • Share information about the latest evidence and findings from research on social, economic and gender-related barriers and consequences of unmet need for menstrual health management;
  • Foster knowledge-sharing on successful, comprehensive and innovative policy and programme approaches applied by regional and national partners to increase access to menstrual health information, facilities and products in a cost-effective, sustainable and scalable manner;
  • Identify sustainable solutions to advance programmes in East and Southern Africa;
  • Build cohesion and create a network among partners that works on menstrual health management to improve advocacy, coordination and synergy among programmes in East and Southern Africa.

Outcomes

The outcomes of the symposium included:

  • Strengthened policy, programme and financial commitment and consensus among partners on programmatic priorities to address key barriers and challenges related to menstrual health management throughout the menstrual life cycle in Africa;
  • Launch of a regional coalition on menstrual health management;
  • Agreement to convene a regional menstrual health management symposium every two years to report on progress against commitment;
  • Recommendations for strengthened menstrual health management in Africa.