Inadequate Responses to Menstrual Hygiene Can Exacerbate Gender-Based Violence

By HerVoice Liberia

Every year on May 28, the world marks Menstrual Hygiene Day, to highlight the importance of good menstrual hygiene management. 

An estimated 1.8 billion people across the world menstruate. In Liberia, about 1.2 million women and girls are on their periods every 28 days of the month that l to the analysis of Liberia Demographics profile 2021 data.

 Nonetheless, the majority are unable to do so in a healthy and dignified way as menstruation is considered taboo; therefore, limiting comprehensive policy and programmatic management and interventions. This is further made worse by the lack of water and sanitation infrastructure in rural communities.  

Additionally, menstruation is directly linked to gender-based violence against women and girls. This is an act of violence that results in or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm. In Liberia, 60% of women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence in their lifetime. Moreover, a WoMena study reports that some married women are beaten by their husbands because they cut blankets to make pads to manage their periods.

Gender-based violence is a declaration of war on women’s bodies. This is driven by discriminatory social norms, cultural taboos, a lack of sanitary products, and a lack of proper toilet facilities.  Consider that only 47% of schools in low-income countries have water coverage and only 46% have sanitation facilities. Lack of access to menstrual health products, private toilets, and spare clothing in case of leaks create harrowing experiences for female students. Girls are at risk of experiencing psychological abuse and ridicule from male classmates when attending school while menstruating.

In homes in rural Liberia, often, pit latrines are the standard facilities and are often outside the main house, tucked away in far corners of homesteads. This does not allow women and girls to easily use the toilet at night, exposing them to sexual harassment, exploitation, and rape, when they do.  

Menstruation is a natural process, and no woman or girl should be punished for it. Safeguards must then be put in place to ensure they live free from discrimination and/or violence. This includes here in Liberia.  The Government must therefore commit to eliminating all forms and root causes of discrimination that curtail women's rights in private and public spheres.  A great place to start would be by making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030. This will only be made possible through intergovernmental agency collaboration on enacting legislation to make sanitary materials accessible; launching nationwide sensitization campaigns; lifting barriers to menstrual education, and ensuring basic water supply for hygiene among other interventions.  

About HerVoice Liberia: HerVoice Liberia is an organization that provides legal services and access to justice for marginalized and vulnerable women and girls in rural communities in Liberia. The organization also runs a mobile legal clinic.