How USAID is Helping Improve Menstrual Hygiene Management in the Workplace

Women and girls all over the world experience challenges managing their periods, especially those who live and work in environments that do not support adequate menstrual hygiene management (MHM). For working women, these challenges may have critical implications for their health and well-being, as well as for economic outcomes such as work attendance, performance, advancement, and earnings.

To celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day 2020, the USAID Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Partnerships and Learning for Sustainability (WASHPaLS) activity presented a webinar on May 28 examining the current body of evidence related to MHM and women’s opportunities for economic empowerment and growth worldwide, as well as early action research to further understand this relationship. The webinar focused on a formative WASHPaLS literature review on MHM in the workplace and the early phases of follow-on efforts from the first setting under study: a Nepali carpet factory.

Aditi Krishna, director of research at Iris Group, began the webinar with a discussion of the desk review her team helped conduct, which found that women experience poor water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and MHM conditions both at home and in the workplace. The review identified barriers women face while managing their periods at work and linked them to various economic, empowerment, and health implications.

Krishna highlighted the lack of evidence linking MHM to women’s economic outcomes and the lack of interventions/programs addressing MHM in the workplace. With this in mind, she said, USAID’s WASHPaLS decided to design action research interventions to address these gaps.

Whitney Fry, senior associate at Iris Group, explained that the main objective of the interventions is to determine if providing adequate MHM in the workplace contributes to improved business and social outcomes, including women’s economic empowerment. USAID’s WASHPaLS’ interventions will be guided by three research questions:

  1. What are the social and economic costs and benefits of providing adequate MHM in the workplace?
  2. What are the internal and external factors influencing implementation of MHM interventions in the workplace and why? 
  3. What indicators are appropriate for measuring adequate MHM in the workplace and generating more evidence about women’s experiences and the implications of MHM conditions?

USAID’s WASHPaLS plans to  implement interventions in each of four countries (Nepal, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nigeria) after an initial period of formative research. At the basic level, each intervention could include free menstrual hygiene products and improved disposal methods in workplace toilets; each intervention will be tailored to local context. 

Maneshka Eliatamby, senior associate at Iris Group, presented on the formative research to date in Nepal, which was conducted in February and March  2020. USAID’s WASHPaLS plans to partner with a carpet factory in Kathmandu, Nepal, that employs 50 women and 80 men from diverse religious, ethnic, and caste backgrounds. USAID’s WASHPaLS wanted to understand women’s experiences with MHM, social norms related to MHM, availability of and access to MHM products, and the policy framework in each workplace. The overall findings suggested the activity address the issues of dignity, agency, and power for women working in the carpet factory.

The proposed intervention will have three features: products and infrastructure, social norms and behavior change, and workplace policies and guidance. It will also leverage different groups of influencers in women’s lives such as men and religious leaders. 

Following the presentation, Fry moderated a question and answer session, which explored topics including the effects of sick leave during menstruation on women’s advancement, case/partner selection, the impact of engaging men and religious leaders in MHM interventions, the delays the COVID-19 pandemic is placing on menstrual hygiene product supply chains, and approaches to menstrual pain management.

Sylvia Cabus, senior gender advisor at USAID's Office of Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment, concluded the webinar by emphasizing the importance of USAID WASHPaLS’ work in MHM. 

“Today’s presentation concretely demonstrates that MHM is a cross-cutting issue with real implications for women’s participation in public life and methods for how we design and implement activities to promote women’s empowerment in general,” Cabus said. 

For more detail listen to the webinar here.

By Claire Hubert of USAID’s Water Communications and Knowledge Management Project