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Ground-breaking Menstrual Health Symposium will be a first for the region

UNFPA and partners are to hold the first-ever, potentially life-changing meeting on managing menstrual health for women and girls in the East and Southern Africa region, the Menstrual Health Management Symposium, in Johannesburg, South Africa from 28 to 29 May.

Why menstrual health matters

Maintaining health and hygiene during menstruation is important for women and girls' health, well-being, mobility and dignity. To ensure this, they require access to the information, supplies and facilities needed to manage their menstruation.

Yet, in the ESA region many girls and women – especially those who live in poverty-stricken areas or who have been affected by humanitarian emergencies – do not have access to appropriate information or menstrual health and management facilities and products that are effective, affordable and safe to use.

This hinders the daily activities of girls and women, leads to stigma and discrimination, and isolates them from their friends and local communities. Critically, it increases the risk of school absence and drop-out, affects work performance and has potential implications for reproductive and mental health.

Good menstrual health and management is a human right

Menstrual health and management is directly linked to the fulfilment of human rights; while menstrual health and management is excluded from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is key to achieving six of the current goals. It is an essential requirement for African countries to harness a Demographic Dividend, and to advance the African Union's Agenda 2063. It is also a key element in implementing the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health 2016-2030.

Menstrual health and management are now widely integrated into national education and health systems, curricula and materials, in humanitarian responses and in research on product acceptability and impact. Many countries are introducing a wider range of menstrual health and management products, including locally manufactured reusable and disposable pads and menstrual cups. New distribution channels are being established.

However, in spite of this progress, most of these efforts remain undocumented, limited in geographical coverage, lacking in a strong evidence base, and largely donor dependent.

More needs to be done to strengthen high-level commitment, coordination and knowledge sharing. Africa needs effective and innovative approaches to supply chain management and distribution. It also needs the financial resources required to sustain efforts and bring programmes to scale across the continent.

Strengthening commitment to menstrual health management

It is for this reason that UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO) and partners are to convene the first regional symposium on menstrual health and management.

The purpose is to strengthen commitment and build on the latest evidence base, to move from research to action, and to demonstrate innovative, sustainable and scalable models to address the needs of adolescent girls and women.

The expected outcomes of the symposium are as follows:

  • Strengthened policy, programme and financial commitment and consensus among partners on programmatic priorities to address key barriers and challenges related to menstrual health and management in Africa;
  • Launch of a regional coalition on menstrual health and management;
  • Agreement to convene a regional menstrual health and management symposium every two years to report on progress against commitments;
  • A technical report with all proceedings and summary of conclusions and recommendations for strengthened menstrual health and management in Africa.

Read more about the symposium.