Menstrual management and sanitation systems

Funded by: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
February 2011 – June 2013

Partner organisations: University of Maryland, Mt Holyoke College, PATH, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Columbia University, Innovations for Poverty Action, eThekwini Water and Sanitation

Project description
In 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded a multi-sectoral investigation into the links between women’s experiences and habits with menstrual management and local sanitation systems. The Menstrual Management and Sanitation Systems project was headed by the University of Maryland, and involves multiple partners including PATH, Stockholm Environment Institute, Columbia University, and University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. The investigation comprised of different research activities to examine factors that influence the methods women use to manage their menstrual periods, the acceptability of alternative menstrual management products, and the potential impact of current menstrual management methods on the functioning of sanitation systems in India and South Africa. 

In recent years, there has been growing concern regarding the difficulties experienced by women and adolescent girls in developing countries in finding adequate means of managing their menstrual periods. In many cultures, the menstrual period remains a taboo topic, despite the fact that it is a natural biological process. In order to inform efforts to expand and improve women’s access to menstrual management options, this study aimed to document women’s habits involving menstrual management, assess demand for alternative menstrual products, and analyse the actual impact of menstrual management products on sanitation systems that are used by women.

The Pollution Research Group at UKZN was involved in several aspects of this study. Firstly, PRG hosted and assisted a research manager responsible for assessing women’s acceptance of alternative menstrual products that may have a less negative impact on sanitation systems. In this randomized evaluation, over 350 women from four low-income communities in the eThekwini Municipality were interviewed at their homes about their current menstrual management practices, perceptions of their sanitation system, and then their use of and satisfaction with alternative products, including a reusable silicone product called a menstrual cup. Secondly, PRG conducted a small survey of school girls in four schools in eThekwini to begin to document the experiences of school girls with managing their menstrual periods and to identify the extent to which their menstrual period impacts their school experience. Thirdly, PRG provided technical assistance to PATH in their case study of sanitation systems in Durban. Given PRG’s knowledge of promising sanitation systems in eThekwini, PRG’s role as technical consultant was to identify potential sanitation systems for assessment, review and provide feedback on case study design and tools, and serve as a bridge to other potential collaborators. The study ended in June 2013.