This blog was originally published on Medium.
At the Menstrual Health Hub we love a good menstrual collaboration. It is no surprise then that when PSI-Europe, in collaboration with The Case for Her, published the Technical Brief for the Integration of Menstrual Health in SRHR last month we were reading it in a flash!
This brief outlines the lessons we can all learn from local networks working in SRHR programmes in Angola, Ivory Coast, Haiti and Central America. Importantly the advice on the integration of menstruation into SRHR is formed directly from the questions that young people are asking about the menstrual cycle.
Our brilliant Innovation Advisor, Maria Carmen Punzi, who is the Menstrual Health focal Point for Population Services Internal (PSI), was the lead researcher on this project and we couldn’t resist the opportunity to have our new Education & Learning Fellow, Charlotte Amrouche, sit down with Maria Carmen to discuss this brief together.
Together Maria Carmen and Charlotte discussed the overlaps between Menstrual Health and SRHR from their distinct perspectives of Innovation and Education & Learning.
Charlotte: What was your favourite finding when compiling this report?
Maria Carmen: What really surprised me throughout this 9 months research project is that girls were constantly asking for information on not just menstruation, but the whole menstrual cycle. From Haiti to Angola they were using social media channels to ask midwives why they are experiencing mood changes, why they are bleeding between cycles, whether this means they are infertile.
If SRHR practitioners include discussions and education about menstrual health they create the opportunity to tackle the real intimacy of the female body and reproductive life cycle.
Charlotte: It is brilliant to see how people around the globe are asking for information, education, knowledge on the menstrual cycle. Like you said, this user need points to the gaps in our discussions and education.
Maria Carmen: Exactly, now is the time for menstrual literacy!
Charlotte: What does this technical brief tell us about why menstruation matters?
Maria Carmen: As we are always saying in the menstrual health community, menstruation matters.
Even more so, the whole menstrual cycle matters.
In PSI’s research women discussed not just their bleeding days, but how the hormonal fluctuations of their cycles have a real impact on their daily lives. And while some women choose to take contraception to stop menstruating, others want to bleed as they find it a helpful reassurance that they are not pregnant or that they feel fertile. The menstrual cycle gives women an opportunity to connect with themselves.
The SRHR field needs to take into account women’s bleeding preferences and explain how contraceptives will affect their cycle, in order for them to be satisfied, and not worried, with their method of choice.
Additionally, menstrual health is an essential element to integrate into SRHR education as the menstrual cycle is a window’s into women’s health. Often the topics discussed in SRHR are hard for people to visualise and therefore being able to observe menstrual blood and its changes month after month is of huge value. The menstrual cycle is, after all, the fifth vital sign.
Charlotte: Speaking of the menstrual cycle as the fifth vital sign, one of the key conclusions of this technical brief is that taking care of your menstrual health is an act of self-care. Can you speak a little more about this?
Maria Carmen: Taking control of your menstrual health is an act of self-care which cultivates bodily autonomy and provides women with the tools to address other sexual and reproductive health issues, such as infections or hormonal imbalances.
From a global health perspective, when girls and women understand their cycle, they gain valuable insights about their fertility — and overall health — and are better equipped to report anomalies to their doctors and make consumer-powered decisions.
Charlotte: So how do we move forward from here? What is your top tip for Menstrual Health and SRHR practitioners?
Maria Carmen: First and foremost, we need to fill the gap in research on menstrual health globally and across sectors. Organizations and funders working in the SRHR space need to recognize that the menstrual experience influences girls and women’s understanding and decision-making about their bodies and fertility, relationship with boys and men, and interaction with communities.
On the other hand, the Menstrual Health community needs to embrace other ways of discussing menstruation, understanding its linkages to unmet need for contraception, bodily autonomy and SRH education and rights. Let us critically reflect on how we can build connections between our communities of practices and explore how we can merge and create allies with other movements. By doing so, the menstrual health movement can continue to flourish and become richer and more diverse.
Bonus: If you’re curious about how Menstrual Health can change the game for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights interventions in practice, make sure to register for the webinar here.
Plus, if you have a read of the full brief, we would love to know your ideas on building alliances and communities across Menstrual Health and SRHR! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!