The issue of limited access to menstrual hygiene products continues to gain global attention for developing countries. However, this is a local issue as well. In St. Louis, Missouri, low-income women are unable to afford necessary menstrual hygiene products. These women compromise by using items such as rags, toilet paper, paper towels, and children’s diapers instead of appropriate supplies during their monthly cycles. This is according to a new study from Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice.
The study, published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, is one of the first needs assessments of its kind. Dr. Anne Sebert Kuhlmann, associate professor of behavioral science and health education at SLU, co-authored the study with Dr. Eleanor Peters Bergquist, Ms. Djenie Danjoint, and Dr. L. Lewis Wall of Washington University in St. Louis.
[Photo: Dr. Anne Sebert Kuhlmann]
Menstrual hygiene is a public health and human rights issue. According to the article, inadequate menstrual hygiene has been associated with infections and poor health-related quality of life. In addition, negative experiences around menstruation are associated with increased rates of missed school and activities among urban adolescents in the United States.
The needs assessment focuses on low-income women. The goals were to identify and document their needs and preferences regarding menstrual hygiene, understand barriers to adequate menstrual hygiene, and to assess how local communities addressed the identified needs.
The team conducted surveys within not-for-profit community organizations and received feedback from 184 women.
The challenges expressed by the women include lack of money to purchase menstrual products, difficulties with transportation to reach stores that sell larger quantities of the products, and concerns about safety during menstruation. The women suggested three main categories of improvements: 1) increase access to menstrual hygiene products; 2) increase education and awareness regarding menstrual hygiene; 3) increase access to safe, secure public restrooms.
The team recommends developing a network of community service organizations to distribute menstrual hygiene supplies, creating a community directory of available menstrual hygiene resources, and providing additional menstrual hygiene education in schools and community service organizations. They also recommend greater advocacy for policy changes, lengthening transfer times on public transportation systems, and improving access to clean, safe public restrooms at all hours.
Dr. Kuhlmann and her co-authors conclude, “Adequate menstrual hygiene management is not a luxury. It is a basic need for all women and should be regarded as a basic woman’s right. Our failure to meet these biological needs for all women in the United States is an affront to their dignity and barrier to their full participation in the social and economic life of our country.”