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Insights to Action – Navigating the Intersection between Gender and Adolescent Mental Health

Organized by International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)

September 13
12:00 PM – 1:30 PM
ICRW, 1120 20th St NW, Suite 500N,
Washington, DC


Girls are at increased risk due to unequal access to resources, decision-making power and education; gender-based violence; and discriminatory practices like child marriage. Few programs and policies have effectively addressed the mental health and well-being needs of adolescents, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Further, existing programs and policies rarely take gender into account or reach the most marginalized.

Join ICRW to discuss the intersection between gender and adolescent mental health.


Educating Communities on the Importance of Menstrual Hygiene

This blog post was written by Lanice Williams, Policy Associate, Global Health Council. 

Girls at Kula Amuka Primary School in Anaka, Uganda, hold up sanitary pads that will help them stay in school. © 2012 Caroline Nguyen/GLOBEMED AT UCLA, Courtesy of Photoshare

Have you ever imagined not having access to a toilet or running water during your period? Or not having access to sanitary menstrual items? Or how to deal with the feelings of shame, embarrassment, or isolation due to your period? These are situations that many of us do not think about, but they are the reality for many women and girls living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

On any given day, more than 800 million women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 are menstruating anywhere from two to seven days. While menstruation is a normal and integral part of life, in many regions of the world menstruating women and girls are often viewed as “impure” and “contaminated.” Many of the views that individuals, including men and boys, have about menstruation are due to lack of knowledge on menstruation, cultural practices, religious beliefs, and social myths about interacting with women during their period.  This is especially common in rural areas where women are prohibited from touching food that others may eat, isolated from their family home, and not allowed to attend school due to the shame associated with their menstruation.  In addition to the negative cultural attitudes and taboos, there are additional challenges associated with menstruation ranging from personal management of periods to issues such as reproductive and sexual health and gender-based violence, which affect girls and women and their roles in their communities.

A number of organizations, governments, and individuals are addressing the issues related to menstrual health by mobilizing others to get involved, breaking practices that at times violate the rights of women, and ensuring that more awareness and education are provided on menstruation.

One country that has deep cultural taboos around menstrual hygiene is Nepal. In the far western region of the country, the harmful tradition of “chhaupadi” — when menstruating women and girls are isolated into separate huts or cowsheds – is practiced. This practice is harmful because many women and girls are denied nutritious food, prevented from bathing and accessing clean water sources used by villagers, and vulnerable to the heightened risk of sexual assault. Although the Nepal Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that chhaupadi was illegal, there are some remote districts in the country where the ruling is rarely enforced. However, several organizations are working within rural communities in Nepal to ensure that this practice is fully abolished.

One such organization is Restless Development Nepal, who, along with its partners KIRDARC and PEACEWIN, addresses discrimination against menstruating females by raising awareness among community leaders, men, and boys. Through the organization’s programmatic approach designed to reduce the prevalence of chhaupadi and provide social support and education to women during their menstruation, employees have trained over 130 peer educators, reduced the prevalence of women sleeping in chhaupadi huts from 20 percent to 5 percent, and provided educational activities to over 20,000 women and girls as well as 15,000 boys and men.

Other organizations such as Plan International, AFRIpads, and Days for Girls work in various countries, such as Uganda and India, to ensure that effective menstrual hygiene management includes a comprehensive approach of addressing women’s immediate needs of sanitary products and menstrual health-appropriate sanitation and hygiene facilities. These approaches in turn lead to women managing their menstrual health free of shame and guilt.

As a community we must ensure that menstrual hygiene management and education are incorporated more into water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), education and sexual and reproductive health programs in LMICs. Doing so allows women and girls to become more confident in managing their menstrual hygiene; helps them stay in school to further their education and economic trajectory in society; and allows them to have a future free from discrimination.

While Menstrual Hygiene Day is recognized each year on May 28, it should not only be limited to this day. We must ensure that education about menstruation and the removal of the stigma around menstruation continues to occur around the world daily. To learn more, join the conversation on Twitter using #MenstruationMatters.

Girl Strong: Promoting global access to water, sanitation and hygiene for women and girls everywhere

This year, WaterAid was #GirlStrong for #WorldWaterDay for the women and girls who spend 40 billion hours collecting water every, single year. Girl Strong highlights a renewed commitment to the incredible strength women and girls all over the world are forced to exhibit on a daily basis.

Girl Strong isn’t just a catchy slogan or convenient hashtag. It is an integrated campaign that seeks to ensure that every woman and girl has access to clean water, a safe toilet and proper hygiene services, through awareness raising with the public and advocacy across the country. Girl Strong is a call to action to promote sustainable solutions and help women and girls unlock their potential by ensuring they have these basic human rights.

Chan Srey Nuch, 31, with her daughters Thea Sreyneang, 6 (red and white top) and Thea Sreyno, 3, (red and blue top). Srey Nuch worries that her children may drown in the filthy flood water when she is out working. Chong kaosou (west) community, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

For World Water Day, WaterAid released its annual “State of the World’s Toilets” report, Wild Water, and featured women and girls whose lives have been dramatically affected by climate change. Srey worries so much about her children getting sick from walking through deep flood waters in rural Cambodia, that she has a neighbor watch them while she completes the 30-minute trek to get water from the one of only two wells in her community – a trek she takes up to six times a day.  The persistent drought in Julietta’s community in Mozambique means it is nearly impossible to farm crops and make a living to feed her four children.











Women and girls are disproportionately affected by lack of access to water and sanitation, and now is the time to ensure that we are working towards helping them recapture those 40 billion hours spent, risks of sexual assault while looking for a water or a loo, missed education just because they’re menstruating, and preventable infections caused by giving birth in places without WASH. We encourage everybody to join us and be #GirlStrong in support of these amazing women and girls.


Women: A Forgotten Priority in Global Health Security

This guest post was written by Ashley Arabasadi, Campaign Manager of No More Epidemics, an international campaign to promote prevention, preparedness, and response to infectious diseases outbreaks. It was originally published on Women Deliver’s website.

Throughout global societies, women’s roles place them at the epicenter of risk from disease outbreaks and epidemics. This is true everywhere, but especially so in poor countries with health systems unprepared to meet the ever-surging demands of a public health emergency.

The interaction between gender roles, disease transmission, and socio-economic stability reach a perilous tipping point in epidemics; failing to address that interaction will result in deficient strategies for outbreak prevention and control, and in massive setbacks for women’s health, and development gains. Unless global health security measures help us understand the impact of emerging diseases on women, nations and the world will remain vulnerable to pandemics.

Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik

Women as caregivers and sentinels

Usually the ones to care for sick family members at home, women are exposed to pathogens that spread from person-to-person. Women and girls, typically responsible for childcare, touch and embrace small children who have little immunity from past illnesses and easily pass along infections. SARs, Ebola, avian influenza, and Nipah virus have forged deadly routes via caregiving. Women are important community surveillants as they are likely to be the first to recognize unusual patterns of illness. If women are informed about the signs of emerging communicable disease threats, and empowered to report them, then women can a powerful local role in keeping outbreaks from spreading.

In domestic roles, women collect water and firewood, and do laundry standing in polluted water, exposing themselves to diseases such as cholera and schistosomiasis. Women usually take care of poultry in backyard farms, and bring them to wet markets, practices that influence the zoonotic risk of avian influenza. As farmers, workers, and entrepreneurs, women are a crucial agricultural resource. They help feed their families and whole communities and help fuel the local economy.

Also in most countries, the vast majority of all healthcare workers, particularly nurses and midwives, are female, working on the frontlines of disease outbreaks. According to a WHO report, not only are these women exposed to more infectious diseases, they often function without the training or decision-making authority to initiate emergency precautions in healthcare settings. If they are powerless to enact safety protocols, they cannot protect patients and themselves from person-to-person spread of infectious pathogens. New resistant disease strains like MRSA and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis can thrive in healthcare environments. What pandemic strains might slip through the cracks because female health workers are not empowered to enforce infection control policies?

Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images Reportage

 What crises have shown us

During an infectious disease emergency, pregnant women are at serious risk. Maternal services are often disrupted and those that are operating do so unsafely; pregnant women have contracted SARs and Ebola in healthcare settings. Influenza has a more severe course during pregnancy and some emerging infections harm the fetus, as Zika continues to tragically remind us. Some diseases can cause pregnancy-related complications and miscarriage, and obstetrical procedures may further spread pathogens. Lactation may also endanger newborns. Chikungunya, leptospirosis and dengue fevers are some infections that can be transmitted through both pregnancy and breast milk. Where midwives perform maternity care outside of formal settings, pregnant women may be at greater risk during outbreaks.

In West Africa, Ebola’s lethal legacy for women will be felt for years to come. The epidemic decimated the already scarce healthcare workforce, killing doctors, nurses and midwives by the hundreds. With fewer health workers, the World Bank has warned of an additional 4,000 maternal deaths and 14,000 child deaths each year in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. According to the World Bank, Ebola has erased 15 to 20 years of progress in maternal and child health in those countries.

We can act now

Ensuring that we reach and empower women to address emerging disease challenges requires strong political commitment and investment from countries and civil society partners. It’s the job of countries to take immediate steps to improve their outreach and awareness efforts to women on the risk of infectious disease, including transmission, recognizing warning signs, and how to report suspected infectious diseases adequately and quickly.  It’s the duty of civil society organizations to galvanize, and compel governments to include a wide-focus on women in national preparedness planning.

When we respect and support the health and rights of women, we keep health systems, households and communities safe, and the whole of society functioning when new diseases threaten our security.