Luna Connection: human rights and environmental implications of menstrual hygiene products
This project explores and addresses the social, legal and environmental implications of menstrual health in Uganda, Kenya and Sudan. Framed within adolescents' rights and access to health discourses, the project develops three themes: menstrual health and adolescents' rights; links between environmental sustainability and menstrual health; whether and how the protection of the environment and adolescents' rights might be in conflict when considering the use of sustainable menstrual health products.
The project addresses three questions:
- In what ways and to what extent does poor access to menstrual health limit adolescents' rights in these countries?
- What is the impact that sanitary products have on the environment?
- How do we find solutions which are suitable for both adolescents' rights and the environment that also consider the social and economic aspects of sustainability?
The project will shine a spotlight on the sustainability of menstrual health, including the everyday as well as in disasters and emergencies such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated adolescent girls’ vulnerability.
- Sustainable Development Goals
This project examined the following SDGs:
SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-being
SDG 4 – Quality Education
SDG 5 – Gender Equality
SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation
SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities
SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production
SDG 13 – Climate Action
SDG 14 – Life Below Water
SDG 15 – Life on Land
Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Globally, 300 million people are menstruating each day. Cultural taboos and gender inequities may explain why the menstrual health needs of women and girls have only recently begun to receive focus in health policy and research. Reports of school girls engaging in transactional sex in exchange for money to pay for menstrual products highlight the potential security, social and sexual health risks associated with basic menstrual health needs in low-income countries. There is a dearth of qualitative and quantitative data on:
- issues of how children’s and adolescents' rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) are limited, and
- the impact that menstrual health products have on the environment, and whether sustainable products are accessible for people that use them. This project, focusing on the alignment of good menstrual health with human rights, social justice and environmental sustainability, will fill a gap and will create social and cultural impacts in partner countries and the UK.
Theme 1: Menstrual health and adolescents' rights
Despite the increased global focus on menstrual hygiene management in the last decade, metrics for the measurement of menstrual health are still poorly defined. The standards of what constitutes good menstrual health, and methods and policies to attain these standards, are still in very much in development (e.g. UNICEF Guidance on Menstrual Health and Hygiene, 2019).
- Uganda has positioned itself, through an innovative and first-in-kind Menstrual Hygiene Management Charter, to become a national and global knowledge hub for good menstrual health practices.
- In May 2020, Kenya launched its Menstrual Hygiene Management Policy 2019-2030. While this is a positive development, evidence suggests that MH in the country is in a dire state: 54% of girls have challenges accessing menstrual health products; only 6% in rural areas and 3% in urban areas use reusable products and, in some regions, 1 in 10 girls has had transactional sex for pads.
- Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) in Sudan has not been prioritised but with the transitional government currently setting healthy policy agendas this project and our partners are well situated to influence future MHM in the country.
This project will bring together and develop an international network of researchers and stakeholders to explore research priorities to support good MH, using a multidisciplinary rights-based approach. In doing so the project will encompass the goals of SDG 3 (health and wellbeing), SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 5 (gender equity), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) and SDG 16 (children’s rights violations). A recent survey by Plan International of professionals from 24 countries suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened existing challenges for menstrual health including access to products, increased cost of products, and access to WASH facilities among others. This further impacts negatively on these SDGs.
Theme 2: Environmental Sustainability and Menstrual Health Management
The project explores under-researched connections between health and wellbeing (SDG 3) with the environment (SDGs 3 and 14). It brings stakeholders together to explore the environmental impact of product disposal, and to discuss approaches to prioritising sustainability in policy and practice. This addresses SDG 6.3 (wastewater management, recycling and reuse) to improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimising release of hazardous chemicals and material. But this must go hand in hand with adequate access to soap, water, and spaces for washing and drying of sustainable menstrual products. As well as understanding that climate change, resulting in extremes of weather, could affect mesntrual health adversely. Water scarcity and flooding both limit access to adequate sanitation.
Theme 3: Environmental sustainability versus individual rights
With a specific focus on the themes of this project, the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) links environment protection to the right to health. Overlooked are considerations regarding whether and how environmental and climate priorities and the upscaling of access to sustainable products hinder or help the implementation of other rights that adolescents are entitled to. This project will start interdisciplinary conversations with policy makers, NGOs, journalists and researchers that focus on social, economic and environmental sustainability for good menstrual health.
Timeline and funding
January 2021-July 2021
- IWD 2022: SSRP project addresses social, legal and environmental implications of menstrual health, University of Sussex news item, March 2022.
- Principle Investigator (PI) and Co-Investigators
- Dr Chi Eziefula, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
- Dr Maria Federica Moscati, School of Law, Politics and Sociology
- Professor Maya Unnithan, School of Global Studies
- Dr Caroline Ackley, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
- Dr Anne Gatuguta, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
- Dr Hayley MacGregor, Institute of Development Studies
- Project team
- Kelly Shephard, Head of Communications, Integrity Global
- Vivienne Benson, Communications and Impact Manager, Institute of Development Studies
- Kelly Shephard, Head of Communications, Integrity Global
- Professor Sarah Staedke, Professor of Malaria and Global Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Infectious Disease Research Collaboration (IDRC), Uganda
- Dr Catherine Maiteki, Research Investigator, Infectious Disease Research Collaboration (IDRC), Uganda and National Malaria Control Division, Uganda Ministry of Health
- Professor Nafisa M Bedri, Manager of GRACe, Professor in Women and Reproductive Health, Gender and Reproductive Health and Rights Resource Centre (GRACe), Ahfad University of Women, Khartoum, Sudan
- Dr Rose Bosire, Deputy Director, Public Health and Health Systems Research Program, Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)
Where we worked
Uganda, Kenya and Sudan.