Putting Menstrual Health on the Global Agenda

by Sarah Webb, Senior Technical Officer, RHSC


Why are you here?

On the rooftop of Female Quotient-hosted Equality Lounge, with the Swiss Alps stretching over Davos in the backdrop, a small group of people gathered following a session focused on women’s health and wealth — and the linkages that connected them. One represented an AI company, another was working on blockchain innovation to transform global payment mechanisms, and a third for a consulting firm that represented impact investors. As I introduced the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition, I was met with a mix of interest, but also surprise — why would an NGO want to be at Davos?

The assumption that NGOs don’t have anything to gain — or offer — in private sector-oriented conversations and dialogues is exactly why they need a seat at the table. NGOs bring a critical perspective around implementation realities, often bridging the gap between public and private sector efforts to transform markets and build sustainable solutions. In fact, RHSC has a long history of working across the public and private sector (including manufacturers), and in market shaping.

500 million

Worldwide, there are an estimated 500 million menstruators who still cannot access safe, quality, affordable products to manage their menstruation. RHSC’s LEAP Report demonstrates that in LMICs alone, there are an estimated 1.67 billion menstruators — 38–61% of whom are not currently using purpose-made products, meaning products specifically intended for menstrual health management.

And while this data demonstrates a tremendous gap in access to a critical reproductive health solution, it also represents a substantial need for market shaping. Unlike other RH supply markets, which are heavily subsidized by either donor or public sector investment, menstrual health markets are predominantly consumer-driven. This presents a unique opportunity to leverage markets, especially regionally and locally, to create sustainable, long-term access to quality menstrual products.

Research that the RHSC commissioned recommends that we need to focus on (1) incentivizing product choice, (2) supporting market actors to grow scalable, sustainable businesses, (3) supporting distribution, and (4) supporting awareness building, demand generation, and the evidence to inform future work. Through these intentional, coordinated market-shaping efforts, we have the opportunity to optimize markets and meet the needs of menstruators at scale.

Don’t send us pads!

During the World Economic Forum, the UN’s Sanitation and Hygiene Fund (SHF) and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) co-hosted an event at the House of Switzerland focused on the need for investment in developing menstrual health markets, and the opportunity for this investment to impact women, economies, and the environment. The event featured panelists from the SDC, 2X Global, and The Case for Her. RHSC also had the opportunity to share insights around the unmet need, market size, and opportunities to transform menstrual health markets at a global scale.

Following the event, one thing remained clear: there is a need to radically re-think existing funding models and efforts to achieve global menstrual equity. While there are many incredible organizations working to transform menstrual health market access, global efforts are by and large stymied by investments into donating pads or single product programming. To truly transform menstrual product markets, a greater emphasis needs to shift to upstream market-shaping efforts to ensure product affordability. These efforts should target cost drivers like taxes & tariffs as well as the cost of raw materials, in addition to focusing on opportunities to regionalize supply chains. They should also prioritize user-informed design and product choice. In short: don’t donate pads, invest in making markets sustainable and functional.

It’s on All of Us

The good news is that things are changing. This year, there were 800 women (28% of attendees) in attendance in the official World Economic Forum– the highest number and proportion in history. And, menstrual health — and reproductive health more broadly — had several big moments, both within the official WEF Agenda and in events throughout the Equality Lounge, Open Forum, and SDG Tent. Take, for example, the launch of the McKinsey authored report, Closing the Women’s Health Gap: A $1 Trillion Opportunity to Improve Lives and Economies.

But are they changing fast enough? With the world’s population expected to continue to grow, an increasing number of menstruators will face challenges in meeting their menstrual health. By 2030, we expect an additional 17% of menstruators than there are today. Not only is there a very real need to ensure that a growing population can meet its health needs, there is also a very real environmental impact of menstrual health management. Addressing the environmental impact associated with menstrual health should not be a burden that is passed on to menstruators, but rather, one that is solved through product innovation and the availability of product choice.

Despite the sobering facts, there is much hope for the future. I left Davos feeling inspired — by the incredible organizations, leaders, and the energy — and eager to continue to advocate for menstrual health, and reproductive health more broadly, to be placed at the center of public private partnership and market-oriented solutions.

Interested in Learning More?

Check out these resources on market-based approaches to menstrual health access: