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Mailman School and UNICEF Co-Host Menstrual Hygiene Management Virtual Conference

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In many countries, adolescent girls face stigma and marginalization around the issue of managing their menstrual hygiene. To address this, there is a growing effort to introduce programs known as WASH in Schools, which aim to ensure access to water, sanitation, and hygiene in every school for every child. WASH in Schools empowers all students, but especially helps girls and female teachers.  While these interventions are increasingly being brought to both development and humanitarian emergency contexts, there is a need to review the range of approaches and share lessons learned to date.  That was the purpose of a September 27th conference at held jointly by the Mailman School and UNICEF at UNICEF offices in New York City.

The largely virtual conference brought together experts in menstrual hygiene management (MHM), global health, and education, with UNICEF offices currently implementing MHM-related activities.  The one-day event showcased the research and programming approaches taking place in 16 UNICEF country offices around the world.  Over 200 people participated online, with an additional 30 experts attending in-person.  Attendees represented WASH, education, health, social entrepreneurial, government and ministerial, and donor agencies from around the world. 

In opening remarks, the Mailman School’s Dean Linda Fried noted the growing global recognition of the issue and the model partnership between UNICEF, the Mailman School, and Emory University. Marni Sommer, DrPH, Assistant Professor of Sociomedical Sciences, provided an overview of MHM and specifically addressed the programming gaps, potential for scale-up, recent grass roots progress, and new research. Dr. Sommer conducts participatory research with adolescents for understanding and promoting healthy transitions to adulthood, and her particular areas of expertise include the intersection of public health and education, and implementing and evaluating adolescent-focused interventions.

UNICEF teams from around the world described WASH in Schools efforts underway.  Sessions explored the barriers faced by girls, current approaches to addressing MHM for girls, and MHM in humanitarian emergencies.  The Mailman School, Emory, UNICEF and various NGOs highlighted the combined efforts and merging of research currently underway. Ongoing projects in UNICEF countries include: 

  • Research exploring the barriers facing school girls managing menses, and the gaps in MHM guidance girls are experiencing
  • Efforts to raise teacher and community awareness about the challenges facing menstruating girls and the need for improved WASH facilities in school settings for girls and female teachers
  • Efforts to identify affordable and environmentally friendly sanitary materials for distribution 

The presentations provided important insights for new countries aiming to initiate MHM-related activities. It also gave a roadmap for  future research to investigate the specific requirements for girls going to school in various social, cultural, and economic contexts.  Priority global and national MHM-related interventions in schools were identified along with the most effective and efficient MHM approaches and best practices for monitoring their implementation, use, and outcomes.

October 3, 2012