To shed light on menstrual health misconceptions, we have partnered with DivaCares by Diva Cup to set the record straight around some of the most persistent myths and misconceptions in menstrual health.
Original post on DivaCares, January 27, 2021.
Menstrual Health Misconception #1: Menstrual hygiene is a human right
Correction: Menstrual health and hygiene is a matter of human rights
A statement that is spoken widely is that “menstrual hygiene is a human right”. This might surprise you, but this statement is incorrect! Menstrual hygiene is not a human right.
Instead, menstrual health is a matter of human rights, as it is a broad precondition for the achievement of a wide range of affiliated human rights. From a human rights lens, the lack of menstrual awareness and necessary basic conditions for people who menstruate impinges on several fundamental human rights including: the right to an adequate standard of health and well-being, the right to privacy, the right to human dignity, to education, to work, and to non-discrimination and equality more broadly.
Menstrual Health Misconception #2: Let’s improve menstrual hygiene!
Correction: Let’s improve menstrual health, not (just) hygiene!
The language around menstruation often uses words and terminology like ‘hygiene’, ‘sanitary’, and ‘menstrual hygiene management’. These terms, however, can be problematic and limited. Why? Periods are not any more unhygienic than any other bodily function. But when language like ‘menstrual hygiene ’ is used, it can reinforce negative notions that menstruation is inherently dirty or that the vagina needs to be sanitized. (Not the impression we want!)
Language like this also insinuates that the proper use of menstrual products (i.e., pads, tampons and menstrual cups) are the quick-fix solution to the ‘unhygienic’ ‘problem’ of menstruation. It also puts the responsibility on the menstruator to ‘clean themselves up’ rather than looking at menstrual health as a larger, societal issue.
In reality, periods are not dirty or unhygienic, and the menstrual products and how we choose to manage our periods are just two elements of a complex menstrual health puzzle that involves (exhale, please) education, body literacy, and skill development. All of these need to be delivered in a socially supportive environment along with the provision of facilities that are up to par, as well as affordable access to safe menstrual products.
So, what’s the alternative? Menstrual health! Put forward by UNICEF’s Guidance to Menstrual Health and Hygiene in 2019, adding ‘health’ to this equation not only evokes more positive connotations but it takes a more holistic and broad view of the menstrual experience (including the days you’re not bleeding!).
Health does not disregard hygiene; hygiene is a habit that people form over time to maintain a healthy lifestyle, which makes hygiene an actual indicator of health.
Menstrual Health Misconception #3: Only Women Menstruate
Correction: Not all people who menstruate are women and not all women menstruate
One of the most pervasive misconceptions about menstruation is that it only happens to women. This is not true! Not all people who menstruate are women and not all women menstruate. Still a bit confused? Whereas sex (i.e., male and female) is defined by genitalia and body parts, gender (i.e., women, men, non-binary) is defined by each person individually and represents how they want to be perceived to the world, and is therefore fluid. A menstruator is a person — regardless of their gender — who menstruates and therefore has menstrual health needs; this includes girls, women, transgender and non-binary people. Additionally, there are cis-women who have had cancer or reproductive health issues that cause them to not menstruate. Cis-women who have hit menopause also do not menstruate.
Simply put, menstruation is not an indication of gender!
We believe menstrual health should be an inclusive field in which all menstrual experiences are valued and given attention, regardless of gender. Menstrual health matters to everyone, everywhere.
We cannot move forward towards gender equality if we leave those at the margins behind. Lack of good menstrual health is, after all, a matter of human rights, not just women’s rights. Moreover, menstrual health is a social issue that affects everyone, not just the people who experience it. Here’s to inclusivity!
Check us out on Instagram for more inclusive, entertaining and educational menstrual health content!
Menstrual Misconception #4: All menstrual products will work for everyone.
Correction: Menstrual health solutions are as diverse as the people using them
We absolutely love the diversity of menstrual care products, including disposables, period underwear, menstrual cups and cloth pads. But not everyone can use every single product.
Menstrual equity is oftentimes incorrectly understood as affordability, accessibility, and safety of menstrual products. This is only partly true. Menstrual equity is not just about products, but also by providing people with the information, support, and choices needed to decide how to manage their own menstrual health.
Instead of providing a one size fits all ‘best’ option, we must strive to ensure a rights-based, pro-choice approach like our friends Monalisa Padhee and Swarnima Bhattacharya argue in this incredible article about choice. People who menstruate everywhere should be able to make informed choices and choose the solutions that suit them best.
So, whether it is a cup, a tampon, a disposable or reusable pad, or even a pair of period panties, embrace the period product that is best for you when you need it and don’t judge others for their choices!
Love this blog series? Get our Menstrual Memo — a delightful blast of victories from the world of menstrual health!
Menstrual Misconception #5: 1/10 school-age girls in Africa misses or drops out of school due to her period
Correction: Use evidence-based statistics to make better claims about menstrual health
Menstrual health still lacks a significant body of evidence, and as a result there are a lot of unproven statistics in circulation that are being used repeatedly to paint the picture of the menstrual health ‘problem’. For instance, the widely quoted statistic (raise your hand if you’ve heard it or something similar!!) -“one in ten school-age girls in Africa misses school or drops out for reasons related to her period” is actually unfounded. The claim actually extrapolates an incredibly powerful generalization from an unverified study.
The frequent use of false or unverified claims like these (often called ‘Zombie Statistics’) is unhelpful and dangerous to progress in this space, as they essentially create misconceptions and misinterpretations that can drive poor decisions. We must move away from Zombie Statistics that are not grounded in evidence to avoid making gross, misleading generalizations. How? Refrain from the practice of using inaccurate statistics about menstrual health! HURRAH to using evidence-based research when making important claims about gender inequality!
Setting the Record Straight
In a quest to provide easy access to this knowledge, we at the MH Hub provide open access to menstrual health research and information in our MH Knowledge Hive. Educating ourselves about menstrual health with accurate, evidence-based knowledge is pivotal when fighting for menstrual equity for everyone, everywhere, and something that everyone can do!
And there you have it! The Menstrual Health Hub has just delivered five of the most prominent menstrual health misconceptions that everyone should know about! Setting the record straight about these fallacies is essential to moving forward and changing the conversation about periods.
Learn more about their work at www.divacares.com