What can existing data on water and sanitation tell us about menstrual hygiene management?
Half of the global population menstruate as part of their life cycle. This involves water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) needs that are often overlooked. Experience from the Millennium Development Goals shows that states focus on targets that are measured globally. Data and indicators on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) for women and girls can have a positive impact on raising awareness, national policy making, and in finding sustainable WASH sector solutions. With this paper, we explore the possible use of Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation estimates for representing women and girls’ unique WASH experience, through a focus on MHM. We reviewed definitions of MHM alongside indicators monitored by the JMP and calculated estimates for 18 case-study low- and middle-income countries. Consultation with a broad range of experts identified open defecation and handwashing indicators as the best proxy indicators for inadequate MHM. Globally around half a billion women (13 per cent) defecate in the open and likely lack privacy for MHM. Data on handwashing suggest that a lack of cleansing materials is a particular challenge for MHM. In six of 10 study countries with data, over three-quarters of women lacked handwashing facilities with water and soap. Further research is needed to establish the validity of various aspects of these proxies and to gain greater understanding of the principal WASH-related challenges and barriers faced by women. Nevertheless, it seems clear that interventions among communities with highest open defecation rates and lowest handwashing levels are needed to address barriers to MHM.