A collaboration of experts, including Burnet Institute’s Dr Julie Hennegan, has developed a definition of menstrual health to provide clarity, a common language, and unity in support of menstrual needs globally.
The definition fills a significant gap in research, policy and practice across a broad range of disciplines including women’s health, human rights, gender studies, education, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and sexual and reproductive health.
Published in the journal Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, menstrual health is defined as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle.”
This definition is grounded in the World Health Organization definition of health and supplemented by a description of the requirements for achieving menstrual health over the life-course, including:
- access to information about the menstrual cycle and self-care,
- access to materials, water and sanitation facilities and services to care for the body during menstruation,
- access to timely diagnosis, care and treatment for menstrual discomforts and disorders,
- a positive and respectful environment free from stigma,
- and the freedom to participate in all spheres of life throughout the menstrual cycle.
The definition emphasises that whilst the majority of those who experience a menstrual cycle are women and girls, menstrual health is essential for all those who experience a menstrual cycle, regardless of their gender identity and the context in which they live.
“Attention to menstrual health in research and practice is growing,” Dr Hennegan, the study lead author and Research Fellow with Burnet’s Global Adolescent Health Working Group, said.
“While early investments focused on resource access and the narrative that girls in low- and middle-income countries don’t have pads, there’s now acknowledgement that there are many other menstrual needs that must be met.
“The goal with our definition is to capture this broader perspective, and also highlight who’s responsible and what it means to support menstrual health.”
Dr Hennegan said she hopes this work can bring visibility to the topic and help stimulate the coordination across sectors that’s needed to ensure menstrual health.
“We can’t keep marginalising menstruation by expecting it to fit neatly into other existing areas of health,” Dr Hennegan said.
Senior author, Thérèse Mahon, Regional Programme Manager South Asia at WaterAid, said a shared vocabulary can support collaboration and investment across silos.
“Our definition outlines the breadth of menstrual health needs and provides a unified objective for supporting people who menstruate,” Ms Mahon said.
The expert collaboration was brought together by the Global Menstrual Collective and consulted a further 51 stakeholders to refine the definition.