The Fourth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 4) Side Event on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) dialogue was organised by Women Major Group (WMG) and co-hosted by Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF) on Wednesday 13th March. Equipped with knowledge and evidence provided by SI grassroots projects, Mary Muia was one of the event speakers.

“Significant barriers to high-quality menstrual hygiene management (MHM) persist across Kenya and many other African Countries. MHM remains a challenge particularly for women and girls in low income settings such as urban slums. When will innovators come up with technologies that address the menstrual hygiene management challenge, especially now that the UNEA 4 draws to a close?

In Kenya, formative research shows that girls face monthly challenges, with 65 percent of women and girls unable to afford sanitary pads. Only 50 percent of girls say that they openly discuss menstruation at home; just 32 percent of rural schools have a private place for girls to change their menstrual product; and only 12 percent of girls in Kenya would be comfortable receiving the information from their mother. There are also more jarring statistics signalling that menstruation is tied to more fundamental risks and issues of gender inequity, with studies showing 2 out of 3 of pad users in rural Kenya receiving sanitary towels from sexual partners who in turn demand for a sexual favour. An act that exposes the adolescent girls and young women to not only the dangers of unwanted pregnancy but also increased risks of HIV infection.

Although there is evidence in Kenya illustrating the problem, there is limited evidence linking the impact of poor menstrual health, that includes an encompassing term for menarche and MHM, with critical outcomes. Whereas current studies have small sample sizes, and they rely on qualitative, self-reported, or anecdotal data, making it difficult to generalise findings across different types of adolescent populations and diverse regions which have different cultural and socio-economic contexts. Yet MHM programs are designed assuming these linkages. There is a need for more research to understand the impact of MHM programmes on life outcomes. A lack of alignment between diverse stakeholders and sector silos is hindering progress on menstrual health. However, current opportunities to better support adolescent girls’ MHM in Africa do exist, including: - improved access to timely menstruation and puberty education; improved product access and affordability for low-income consumers; and integration of girl-friendly features into sanitation design and infrastructure.

Under the overall UNEA-4 theme, ‘Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production,’ deliberations during the skills sharing dialogue pointed out the urgency for intense political advocacy. Deliberations called for member states to continue to enhance international cooperation and assistance, particularly in the following areas:

  • financing,
  • the voluntary transfer of technology on mutually agreed terms and capacity-building,
  • promotion of gender responsive, non-discriminatory environmental policies and measures for all women and girls;
  • help ensure women’s rights and their access to food and nutrition, safe drinking water and sanitation, health-care services, education and training, adequate housing and decent work, clean energy, science and technology”.