From Shame to Change: Empowering Local Businesses for Menstrual Health & Dignity (MHD)


May 24, 2024

For far too long, menstruation has been shrouded in secrecy and stigma, a natural bodily function whispered about in hushed tones, particularly in the Global South. But a powerful movement is rising, one that's not just changing the conversation, but rewriting the narrative entirely. At the heart of this transformation lies a surprising force: local businesses within the Global South. By empowering local social enterprises to become champions of menstrual health & dignity (MHD), this movement is fostering positive change from the ground up, ensuring a healthier, more equal, and more empowered future for communities around the world.

PSI-Europe has joined forces with Fòs Feminista, Equipop, and the Global South Coalition for Dignified Menstruation in the groundbreaking Sang Pour Sang (Unies pour la Dignité) project. In the project, funded by Agence Française de Développement (AFD), project partners are working to break down menstrual inequities in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), promoting menstrual health and dignity (MHD) in no less than nine countries in Africa (Benin, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Nigeria), Asia (Pakistan, Philippines) and the Caribbean (Dominican Republic, Haiti).

Henriette Ceyrac, Project Lead of the Sang pour Sang project, spoke with Priscilla Natukunda, the Social Enterprise Support Manager in the project, about what makes it so unique.

HC: Many development projects focus on broad issues like education and sanitation, but menstrual health often gets left out. Can you explain how the Sang pour Sang project addresses menstrual health and why it's such a critical piece of the development puzzle?

PN: Indeed, when it comes to development, menstrual health and dignity is frequently relegated to the sideline, while it is a vital aspect of overall well-being that often gets overlooked. It goes beyond just access to sanitary products (though that is crucial!) to encompass education, breaking taboos, and ensuring girls and women can manage their periods hygienically, safely, and with confidence. This holistic approach directly links to several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. Imagine a girl missing school because of inadequate facilities or lacking the knowledge to navigate her cycle. This not only impacts her education (SDG 4) but also her well-being (SDG 3).  Menstrual dignity allows girls to stay in school, fostering a sense of empowerment and contributing to a healthier future.  Furthermore, period health is intrinsically linked to proper sanitation (SDG 6).  Ensuring access to clean water and private sanitation facilities is crucial for proper menstrual hygiene management.  By prioritizing menstrual health, the Sang pour Sang project is investing in a holistic approach to development, creating a ripple effect that strengthens equality, well-being, education, and sanitation for all.

HC: The Sang Pour Sang project tackles a complex issue with local variations. How will you ensure your approach is sensitive to these differences and effectively reaches the communities you aim to serve?

PN: The Sang Pour Sang project understands that menstrual health and dignity is a complex issue with significant local variations. One size certainly doesn't fit all!  To ensure our approach is sensitive to these differences and effectively reaches the communities we serve, we have a powerful secret weapon: local social & solidarity enterprises (SSEs).

These local social enterprises are embedded within the communities we aim to support. Their deep understanding of cultural nuances, social norms, and existing infrastructure related to menstrual health allows us to tailor our interventions to resonate with local beliefs and practices. Their established relationships and trust within the communities are of enormous importance as they act as bridges between Sang Pour Sang and the target population. These local social enterprises will be key partners in ensuring the project's sustainability beyond the initial implementation phase.  They can continue to provide education, support local production of menstrual products, and advocate for menstrual health awareness even after Sang Pour Sang's initial intervention.

HC: PSI-Europe’s role on the project is to support social & solidarity enterprises. Can you elaborate on how this partnership empowers both the communities and the SSEs to address menstrual health challenges in a sustainable way?

PN: PSI-Europe's role in Sang Pour Sang is critical. We see social solidarity enterprises (SSEs) as the driving force behind creating long-lasting change in menstrual health. We empower these SSEs through capacity-building (training and resources to strengthen their technical and business skills), advocacy facilitation in favour of an enabling environment, networking and knowledge sharing (facilitate a platform for SSEs to learn from each other's experiences).

We adopt a one-two punch for better menstrual health in communities: By supporting Social Solidarity Enterprises (SSEs) that are focused on menstrual health, we equip them with the resources they need to thrive. Stronger SSEs can better serve their communities, offering accessible and relevant products and services. This naturally leads to increased demand, leading to SSEs becoming more financially secure. This allows them to expand their work, reach more people, and create a ripple effect of positive change on menstrual health within their communities.

This creates a sustainable cycle. Stronger businesses lead to healthier communities, which in turn strengthens the businesses – a win-win for everyone involved!

HC: This has been a truly informative discussion about PSI-Europe’s impactful work. Looking ahead, what excites you most?

PN: Honestly, what excites me most is the potential for long-term impact. Working with PSI on projects like Sang Pour Sang allows us to go beyond just addressing immediate needs. By empowering local social enterprises, we're equipping communities with the tools and knowledge to create lasting change. The thought of girls missing fewer school days because of their periods, or women feeling empowered to manage their health with dignity – that's what keeps me motivated and truly excited about the future of this work.

HC: Is there anything specific our readers can do to get involved or raise awareness about menstrual health & dignity?

PN: Absolutely! Menstrual Health and Dignity is a cause that truly needs everyone on board. Spread the word, talk openly about periods, challenge taboos, and share accurate information on social media or with friends and family. Advocate for change by contacting your local representatives and urge them to prioritize MHD policies, such as ensuring access to affordable menstrual products in schools or public facilities. Every action, big or small, contributes to a world where menstruation is normalized and managed with dignity. Let's work together to break the silence and empower everyone to experience a healthy period.

HC: Wrapping up our conversation, what message would you like to leave with our readers about menstrual health and dignity, and perhaps any upcoming events or initiatives they can look forward to?

PN: I invite our readers to stay tuned when we share updates on the incredible work our Sang Pour Sang partners are doing across the regions. Remember, menstrual health isn't a luxury, it's a matter of human rights. Let's join forces and create a world where everyone can experience and manage their periods with dignity and reach their full potential. Together, we can rewrite the narrative – period!

Please don’t forget to mark your calendars for May 28th - it's World Menstrual Hygiene Day! Join us in celebrating healthy periods and breaking the stigma. Stay tuned for awesome content!

Let's keep the conversation flowing! Share your thoughts and experiences with MHD and don’t forget to please follow us on our social media platforms.

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