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More than Words – MH Day 2021

by Hannah Haynes – Technical Performance Manager: Menstrual Health Lead

At AmplifyChange we are always working to accurately represent the development of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), our grantees, their partners and the work we support.

This means that we take time to reflect on our communications and language, to ensure it is as inclusive and current as possible, reflecting the progress made by SRHR advocates across the world.

So this Menstrual Health day, we are sharing some of these thoughts and changes with you.

Traditional menstrual terminology often depicts menstruation as a hygienic crisis, with phrases such as ‘menstrual hygiene’ and ‘sanitary products’ featuring heavily in publications and conversations.

Such language continues to reinforce unnecessary and harmful social stigmas and taboos around menstruation in communities, governments, and online. This stigma of menstruation can have detrimental consequences on self-esteem, social status, well-being, and sexual and overall health.

In recent years, there has been a global shift in menstrual discourse, to focus more on inclusive, holistic menstrual terminology. Holistic language refers to language that views menstruation more broadly, inclusive of “systemic factors that link menstruation with health, well-being, equity, education and rights” (UNICEF, 2019). 

In April 2021, the Terminology Action Group of the Global Menstrual Collective presented a definition for the term ‘menstrual health’ in Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, after tirelessly advocating for a more comprehensive and less stigmatising definition of menstruation; one that ensures menstrual health is prioritised across the board.

The Terminology Action Group of the Global Menstrual Collective define menstrual health as: “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle”.

AmplifyChange recognises menstrual health as a cross-cutting SRHR theme and we support inclusive and holistic menstrual health projects that work on access to products and education for all people who menstruate, as well as public dialogue and stigma reduction, to normalise and mainstream menstrual health.

We are committed to promoting and adhering to menstrual terminology that is destigmatising and inclusive. Our revised menstrual terminology allows us to talk more holistically about menstrual health, and ensures inclusivity of all people who menstruate, regardless of their gender-identity.

We believe that the language we use matters, and we will continue to work with organisations who work tirelessly to ensure that menstrual stigma at all levels is reduced, and this often begins with the words we choose.

An excerpt from Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, vol. 29 issue 1

Menstrual health: a definition for policy, practice, and research

Definition of menstrual health:

Menstrual health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle.

Achieving menstrual health implies that women, girls, and all other people who experience a menstrual cycle, throughout their life-course, are able to:

  • access accurate, timely, age-appropriate information about the menstrual cycle, menstruation, and changes experienced throughout the life-course, as well as related self-care and hygiene practices.
  •  care for their bodies during menstruation such that their preferences, hygiene, comfort, privacy, and safety are supported. This includes accessing and using effective and affordable menstrual materials and having supportive facilities and services, including water, sanitation and hygiene services, for washing the body and hands, changing menstrual materials, and cleaning and/or disposing of used materials.
  • access timely diagnosis, treatment and care for menstrual cycle-related discomforts and disorders, including access to appropriate health services and resources, pain relief, and strategies for self-care.
  • experience a positive and respectful environment in relation to the menstrual cycle, free from stigma and psychological distress, including the resources and support they need to confidently care for their bodies and make informed decisions about self-care throughout their menstrual cycle.
  • decide whether and how to participate in all spheres of life, including civil, cultural, economic, social, and political, during all phases of the menstrual cycle, free from menstrual-related exclusion, restriction, discrimination, coercion, and/or violence.

Read the full article, Menstrual health: a definition for policy, practice, and research.

Zakia Haq Neela (she/her) - RedOrange Media and Communications, Bangladesh. The text in this photo reads: We need to break the stigma and normalize menstruation from the grassroot level and upwards.. Our communication and knowledge products focused on these crucial messages have helped change social behaviour and attitudes on menstruation
Zakia Haq Neela (she/her) – RedOrange Media and Communications, Bangladesh
Pema Lhaki (she/her) - Nepal Fertility Care Center. The text in the photo reads: The new definition of Menstrual Health valudates our vision, mandate and reason why we started focusing on menstruation. This definition encompasses all aspects of menstruation that is usually overlooked and enables a more comprehensive understanding of the issue as well as what it entails. NFCC is proud to have participated in this development.
Pema Lhaki (she/her) – Nepal Fertility Care Center
Laxmi Ghalan (they/them) - Mitini Nepal. The text reads: Some men menstruate, some women don't! Some menstruators identify as non-binary. Menstruator is a much more inclusive term.
Laxmi Ghalan (they/them) – Mitini Nepal
Isabelle Kubwimana (she/her)  -Youth Service Organization (YSO), Rwanda. The text reads: We prefer to use the phrase menstrual health - by using the term menstrual hygiene alone, there are things that we are omitting. For example, advocating for better menstrual policies can be viewed as a key role in attaining better menstrual health.
Isabelle Kubwimana (she/her) – Youth Service Organization (YSO), Rwanda
An extract from Boondh’s Media Advocacy Toolkit for Reportage and Discussions on Menstruation. The text explains why using more inclusive terminology and avoiding negative words will ensure that journalistic pieces will be more inclusive.
An extract from Boondh’s Media Advocacy Toolkit for Reportage and Discussions on Menstruation

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