Improving access to menstrual hygiene products

Helpdesk Query:

Please review major global initiatives which aim to increase the access of women and girls to affordable menstrual hygiene products. Provide brief summaries of different types of approaches and any available information on successes and lessons learnt.

Summary:

The market for menstrual hygiene products in developing countries is expanding rapidly, driven both by private demand and by public efforts to improve girls’ educational outcomes and women’s health and dignity. However, many women and girls cannot consistently afford the monthly cost of disposable menstrual products and revert to less hygienic solutions when facing cash constraints.

The choice of sanitary protection is a personal decision based on cultural acceptability and user preferences. It is also often influenced by a woman or girl’s environment and access to funds, a water supply and affordable options. It is critical that any programme aiming to support women or girls with sanitary protection materials involves them in the planning discussions and decisions about the materials and/or products to be supported.

Key findings

  • Menstrual hygiene management has been a neglected priority and rarely appears in donor strategies, national government policies or advocacy agendas.
  • Anecdotal evidence of provision of free or subsidised products is positive. However, continuity and sustainability of supply can be a problem.
  • Reusable products are more economical, practical and environmentally sustainable than disposable products.
  • Menstrual cups are the most cost-effective option in the long term. However, the initial cost is high and there may be psychological barriers to insertion.
  • There are examples of small-scale local enterprises manufacturing low-cost pads. Supporting low-cost local production offers a more sustainable solution than free provision of menstrual hygiene products. Some ventures fail due to problems that include lack of standardisation and inadequate saleswomen.
  • There is a lack of formal evaluations of programmes supporting access to menstrual hygiene products.

This helpdesk was prepared for the Australian Government in collaboration with the GSDRC.

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