The theme for MHM Day this month is education. So you might ask – do international policy discussions on education pay attention to MHM? Do they see it as a human rights issue? To my mind, the answer to both questions is: probably not 5 years ago, but now, yes! Generally, attention to MHM is recent. The field of education was actually one of the first to focus on it.
UNESCO (the UN agency dealing with education) produced guidelines for puberty education in 2014, including recommendations for education on MHM. Human rights fora have also focussed on MHM and education, increasingly and repeatedly. Here are a few examples, just from 2016:
In March 2016, the Committee on the Rights of Women called for MHM services and education, especially for schools in rural areas. A resolution by the Human Rights Council on September 29, 2016 states:
‘Deeply concerned that the lack of access to adequate water and sanitation services, including for menstrual hygiene management, especially in schools, contributes to reinforcing the widespread stigma associated with menstruation, which negatively affects gender equality and women’s and girls’ enjoyment of human rights, including the right to education and the right to health.’(16)
In December 2016, the Committee on the Rights of the Child made direct mention of the right to MHM services and education.The Millennium Development Goals made no mention. The Sustainable Development Goals (2016-2030) at least mention that water, sanitation and hygiene should be provided ‘paying special attention to the needs of women and girls’.
All of these policies and strategies will be closely monitored. Governments are asked on to report back every 2 years on the Resolution. Universal Periodic Reviews, conducted every 4-5 years, are another opportunity. See when your country is up for review here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx
Some national governments are also taking it to heart – for example the Ministry of Education and Sports of Uganda, in its strategy for girls’ education. So, to my mind both international and national policy basis is getting stronger. Many challenges are ahead of us, and one of them will be to develop good data. As they say: ‘you manage what you measure’. So I would dearly love to hear comments on that!
Blog Author: Siri Tellier
Siri Tellier is part of WoMena’s communications team and has worked in the past 40 years in international health programme/policy, including as the Director of International Department of the Danish Red Cross, Country Representative in Afghanistan, China, DPRK (UNFPA) Programme Director Community participation WATSAN (UNDP) and as the Chair of the UN Theme Group on HIV/AIDS in China.