CGIAR Gender News

Menstrual Hygiene Management – a missing piece in the water agenda

In the outskirts of Thata in Pakistan, women displaced by the 2010 flooding line up to fetch water. Photo: Asian Development Bank.

Water, an essential resource for life, is intricately intertwined with an often overlooked and taboo topic: Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM).

In many parts of the world, MHM remains hidden, stigmatized, and ignored, despite its crucial links to health, education, empowerment, and livelihood outcomes.  Estimates suggest that around 500 million women and girls* lack access to adequate facilities, clean water, or sanitary products to practice MHM.

Global Menstrual Hygiene (MH) Day, observed annually on 28 May, serves to raise awareness about the need for effective MHM and encourage decision-makers to integrate MHM into policy agendas. Specifically, MHM (or sometimes Menstrual Health and Hygiene) refers to a range of actions and interventions that ensure that those who menstruate can manage their menstruation privately, safely, and hygienically with confidence and dignity. This includes having access to clean water, soap, and safe sanitation and disposal facilities. Unfortunately, many women and girls worldwide face barriers in achieving effective MHM, leading to adverse health consequences, social stigmatization, limited opportunities for education and empowerment, and even environmental pollution.

While MHM is directly linked to the water sector as it underscores the importance of water access, quality, and management, there is limited recognition and integration of MHM into water agendas. One major gap is the stigma surrounding menstruation and unavailability of adequate gender-disaggregated water data, including MHM-related indicators in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programs.

To address this gap and promote more inclusive and gender-sensitive evidence-building, International Water Management Institute (IWMI) Pakistan recently conducted a comprehensive community WASH survey in two disadvantaged urban communities in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The survey was conducted under the Australia Pakistan Water Security Initiative (APWASI), a multi-year urban water resilience project funded by Australian Aid and led by WWF-Pakistan with IWMI Pakistan and Hydrology and Risk Consulting (HARC) as implementing partners.