The Royal Wedding and Menstrual Hygiene Day: What Meghan Has to Teach Us
Much is being written about the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle which took place earlier this month. As most of us know, in addition to being the new Duchess of Sussex, Meghan is a self-proclaimed feminist. As part of her efforts to advance social justice and women’s empowerment, she has been a strong advocate for menstrual hygiene management. Meghan cares about this issue so much that in lieu of wedding gifts, she and Harry asked for charitable donations including for menstrual pads manufactured by and distributed for women and girls in rural India.
On her wedding day, Meghan wore a beautiful white dress during the ceremony, as well as a second one she changed into later that day. Like women and girls around the world planning for a special occasion with a special outfit and many people watching — whether it be a wedding, graduation, performance, or sporting event — Meghan might have wondered if she would get her period on her wedding day, and if so, how she would manage it.
Menstruation is an entirely natural thing, as Meghan pointed out in her 2017 article in TIME magazine on menstrual hygiene. She also noted that many girls and women around the world do not have the supplies, space, or support to manage their menses in sanitary, discreet, and affordable ways. As a result, many girls miss school, or drop out of school, or are susceptible to violence in unsafe settings. In response, Meghan shared a call to action with her readers. She said that we need to, “push the conversation, mobilize policy making surrounding menstrual health initiatives, [and] support organizations who foster girls’ education from the ground up.”
The world is starting to listen to Meghan and others who have made similar calls to action. Today is Menstrual Hygiene Day which celebrates and catalyzes global partners across all sectors to engage in action, advocacy and knowledge-sharing to ensure girls and women have the resources and support they need for safe, effective menstrual hygiene management.
As public health practitioners working to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights, we advocate for greater recognition of the importance of menstrual health and hygiene management in our field. There are many important linkages involving menstrual health that have not been fully recognized or leveraged including connections with global efforts to increase access to high quality contraceptive services. Suggestions for how we can implement those linkages include:
1. Support the use of contraception to reduce or control menstrual bleeding: Some hormonal contraceptive methods, such as the levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system (LNG-IUS), substantially reduce menstrual bleeding, and for some women, lead to complete cessation of menstruation, a condition known as amenorrhea. Other methods, like the combined oral contraceptive pill or vaginal ring, can be used to control the timing and frequency of menstrual cycles. For women in developing countries, where access to menstrual hygiene supplies and safe places to manage their menses are sometimes limited, the advantages of contraceptive-induced menstrual control could be especially important. This is particularly true for the many women and girls who experience painful or heavy periods. Likewise, as we work to develop new contraceptive products, we should support development of options that rapidly and reliably eliminate bleeding as a way to increase choice and empowerment for women around the world.
2. Provide girls and women with information about menstruation and contraception: When we offer contraceptive services to women, we need to provide information about the menstrual cycle and how contraceptive methods are likely to impact their menstrual bleeding. Recently, FHI 360 and PSI developed a tool for healthcare providers which offers simple guidance on how to counsel family planning clients that menstrual bleeding changes are normal when using contraception. Likewise, when we provide sexual health education to young people, we must include evidence-based information about puberty, menstruation, and contraception. We must also challenge harmful gender norms that can affect attitudes about both use of family planning and menstrual health.
3. Ensure access to high quality products for women and girls worldwide: Those working in the fields of menstrual hygiene management and family planning can benefit by sharing strategies to ensure that populations most in need have access to a range of affordable, acceptable, high quality commodities. Around the world, much is being done to facilitate “contraceptive security” — that is, to guarantee that high quality contraceptive products reach the clinics and women who need them. Likewise, a great deal of innovative work is being done to design, manufacture, and distribute affordable menstrual hygiene products in low-resource settings. Both fields can share “lessons learned” about what’s working — and what isn’t — as we attempt to increase reliable access to both of types of health products.
So what if Meghan did have her period on her wedding day? Undoubtedly, she would have relied on high quality menstrual products to manage her menses discretely. Or perhaps Meghan uses a birth control method that has the added advantage of delaying, reducing, or eliminating menses. Either way, Meghan has an important lesson to teach all of us: girls and women around the world need and deserve resources for menstrual health and hygiene management, and we must provide the support — including by offering high quality contraceptive services — to help them achieve this goal.
You can learn more about international Menstrual Hygiene Day here.