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Menstrual Disposal, Waste Management & Laundering in Emergencies: A Compendium [EN/AR]

Columbia University
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Globally, there is increasing attention towards incorporating menstrual hygiene management (MHM) into humanitarian response. However, in the majority of emergencies, the distribution of menstrual materials by response actors to adolescent girls and women is the most common activity. Although materials are essential, their distribution represents only one component of a complete MHM response (see Figure 1). Women and girls must also have appropriate menstrual hygiene and health information, in addition to the practical ability to use available menstrual materials as intended.

More specifically, there has been insufficient attention provided to two key areas of an MHM response:

  1. menstrual material disposal and waste management; and

  2. menstrual material washing and drying. Left unaddressed, existing MHM responses are insufficient, and will not be successful in meeting beneficiary needs. This compendium aims to contribute to filling this gap.

Although there has been considerable progress in the openness with which menstruation is discussed, along with increased comfort in the provision of menstrual materials, this progress has not applied to discussions around the handling of used, bloody, menstrual materials. These remain, perhaps, one of the most taboo items in the world.

For any woman or girl who changes her pad or other menstrual material during her period, there is an immediate question about what to do with the used pad or material. If disposable, there needs to be a way to dispose of it. If it is to be reused, it needs to be washed, dried and stored, ready for re-use. In almost all cultures across the world, there is extreme stigma associated with other people (especially, but not limited to, men) seeing or being aware of the existence of this used material.

This compendium focuses on some specific practicalities of managing menstruation in humanitarian contexts. Whereas the MHM in Emergencies Toolkit provides guidance on the broader context of providing for menstruation in a humanitarian response, this compendium aims to provide practical guidance on some approaches to menstrual material disposal, waste management and laundering.

This guidance seeks to address key gaps with respect to the specific practicalities of managing menstrual materials. Displaced women and girls using disposable products face clear challenges figuring out how to get rid of them in their constrained contexts. And those using reusable materials must be able to wash, dry and store them hygienically between periods, similarly with limited privacy. To date, humanitarian responders have provided few innovative solutions for these challenges.

In discussing these issues, the compendium draws on a survey of good practices being utilized by organizations around the world, to propose approaches that may be adapted to new responses and new contexts.