The Economics of Menstrual Hygiene Management

Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is closely related to the economic growth of less developed countries (LDCs). Yet over 500 million women and girls globally still lack access to facilities and materials for adequate MHM. The silence, taboo, and stigma associated with menstruation often make it difficult to maintain good hygiene and limit women’s and girls’ potential in society.

Restrictions during menstruation, from staying home from school or temple to having to sleep outside, and the lack of adequate washroom access in LDCs have affected women’s and girls’ likelihood to attend school. While this is first a sanitation matter, it is also an economic challenge. With educational attainment signaling an individual’s stock of human capital, women’s and girls’ future earnings increase with every additional year of primary and secondary education. In the national scope, increasing their level of education by 1% also increases income per capita by 0.3% annually per the rise in female labor force participation and productivity. Investments in female health are therefore desirable as these speed up LDC’s take-off toward sustained economic growth.

State and non-state efforts to eradicate menstrual hygiene poverty in LDCs have mainly focused on providing and distributing free disposable or reusable pads. While MHM interventions have promising results, their effectiveness has not been entirely positive. Education and awareness of menstruation and menstrual products need to go hand-in-hand with access to adequate menstrual practices. With more information about MHM, the associated fear, anxiety, and embarrassment, which often makes missing school a method for young girls to manage menstruation, can be alleviated. In stories heard by UK-based researchers, schoolgirls in Uganda who had pads continued to miss school on account of improper instructions and imperfect information about the benefits and risks of different menstrual products, among other reasons.

Appropriate policy implementation to maximize the utility of period-positive efforts that educate about menstrual hygiene and support the access to affordable menstrual products needs to occur. Otherwise, a lack of awareness and a lack of acceptance will continue to limit the ability of women and girls to fully and equally participate in society.

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