A Period in Humanitarian Crises

By USCRI January 18, 2024

Menstruation, commonly referred to as a period, is often stigmatized. Many find dialogue about it awkward or unnecessary. Yet it is one of the most important conversations for humanitarian actors, policymakers, and the global community to have. Neglecting menstrual hygiene needs can lead to grave impacts on physical and mental health, therefore worsening already critical refugee and migration situations for young women and girls.

Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as,

“Women and adolescent girls are using a clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect menstrual blood, that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of a menstrual period, using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to safe and convenient facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials.”

When the onset of menstruation occurs – a natural bodily function releasing blood and tissue from the uterus – women and girls begin to have menstrual hygiene needs monthly. These include needs for soap and clean water, menstrual hygiene products such as sanitary pads, and safe toilet facilities that are secure and provide privacy. But women and girls around the world are unable to access adequate MHM and the consequences are severe. The World Bank estimated that 500 million women around the world lack access to menstrual products and adequate facilities for MHM. Within this context, the agency found that more than 300 million women worldwide are menstruating on any given day.

“Access to good menstrual hygiene is key to women’s health and wellbeing. But too often in humanitarian crises, these needs go unmet.”
Doctors Without Borders

Poverty, gender inequality, cultural stigmatization, discriminatory social norms, and a lack of basic services are all factors that can fuel the inability for women and girls to experience their menstruation cycles with dignity and safety in all parts of the world. Adolescent girls bear significant impacts on their livelihood and wellbeing without MHM, primarily as it relates to their education and health.

Although this is a global issue, the situation is even more dire for women and girls in emergencies and humanitarian crises, where such challenges are acute and exacerbate preexisting vulnerabilities. When conflict, climate, or other extraordinary circumstances force people to flee, their access to resources, essential services, and security cease, however, menstruation does not.

Click here to read the report.


USCRI, founded in 1911, is a non-governmental, not-for-profit international organization committed to working on behalf of refugees and immigrants and their transition to a dignified life.

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