Menstruation and Human Rights

This article is written by a master student and reflects their individual perspectives and opinions. It does not constitute an official representation of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute. The content provided here is for educational and informational purposes only, and readers should be aware that it does not necessarily align with the official position of the institute. Readers are encouraged to independently verify information and seek guidance from appropriate academic authorities when necessary. The authors bear full responsibility for the content presented in this blog and any potential consequences resulting from it.

This article was written by Yanyan Huang. Yanyan is currently a master student of the International Human Rights Law programme at Lund University. She graduated from Macau University of Science and Technology with a bachelor’s degree. Her fields of interest include disability law and women’s rights.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), poor menstrual health conditions can significantly impair the fundamental rights of those who menstruate and also worsens social and economic inequalities. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized this issue, urging that menstrual health be addressed as a health and human rights concern. This raises a question: should the rights of people who menstruate be enshrined into international human rights law?

Menstrual Health

Menstrual health is intrinsically linked to various human rights, including the rights to health, sanitation, education, and non-discrimination. Poor menstrual health often results in stigma, marginalization, and reduced educational and economic opportunities, especially in developing countries where taboos around menstruation persist. Moreover, inadequate access to menstrual hygiene products and sanitation facilities affects the dignity and autonomy of those who menstruate, impacting their ability to fully participate in society. The lack of proper menstrual health infrastructure can lead to health issues, reduced attendance at work or school, and increased vulnerability to exploitation or abuse.

The intersection of menstruation and disability requires specialized attention to ensure accessibility, understanding, and proper support. The societal stigma surrounding menstruation perpetuates discrimination and reinforces gender-based inequalities which further emphasizes the need to address menstrual health as a matter of human rights, ensuring that no one is left behind due to a lack of accessibility or societal bias.

International Human Rights Law Perspective

Despite its importance, menstruation is not yet recognized as a specific human right in the current international human rights law framwork. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) do not explicitly include menstrual health. Some scholars hold that since rights such as health, hygiene and non-discrimination are outlined in pre-existing treaties, it is unnecessary to specifically codify the right to menstrual health and hygiene as a distinct human right.

However, the existing provisions may not adequately address the unique challenges related to menstrual health which may allow States and individuals to take advantage of this loophole in protection, especially for people suffer period poverty. For example, schools in developing countries, especially in rural areas, have inadequate facilities including water supply. Without affordable or free pads or tampons, these girls often resort to using rags, old clothes, or even leaves to manage their periods. This situation exposes them to health risks like infections and reproductive health issues, therefore resulting in missing school and impacts their education and future opportunities. This case illustrates that current provisions which might include basic health education and limited access to menstrual products are not sufficient to address the broader challenges related to menstrual health. Solutions regarding menstrual health education, measures to reduce stigma and discrimination around menstruation are needed.

Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act 2021

In terms of domestic law, the implementation of the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act 2021, which came into force on 15 August 2022, marks a historic moment as Scotland became the first country to make period products universally free. This groundbreaking law ensures that anyone in need of menstrual products can access them easily, without any cost barrier. By legally enshrining the right to free period products, the Act addresses the pressing issue of period poverty and takes a significant step toward gender equality. It not only reduces the financial burden associated with menstruation, but also combats the stigma and shame often attached to it. This legislative approach underscores the importance of recognizing menstruation as a fundamental health and human rights issue, setting a precedent for other countries to follow in ensuring equitable access to period products for all. International human rights laws provides a framework for holding states accountable. Without specific recognition, there is less leverage to hold countries to their obligations which would hinder the effectiveness of human rights mechanisms in ensuring compliance and advancing the rights of people who menstruate.

Therefore, the omission of legal provisions that specifically address menstrual health can perpetuate neglect and the ongoing failure to meet the needs. Thus, a solid legal foundation for accountability is essential.


Menstural health is more than a matter of hygiene but also a fundamental human rights issue. Addressing it at the international human rights level is crucial for achieving social and economic equality, especially for marginalized groups. As the discourse around menstrual health gains momentum, the international community should take concrete steps to ensure that the rights of people who menstruate are recognized, respected, and protected.


Menstruation and Human Rights – Frequently Asked Questions, United Nations Population Fund, (May 2022),

World Health Organization. (2022). Statement on menstrual health and rights.

UNICEF (2020) Guidance on Monitoring Menstrual Health and Hygiene. New York, USA:UNICEF.

Isobel Day, Menstruation, Human Rights and the Patriarchy: How International Human Rights Law Puts Menstruating People at Risk. Harvard Human Rights Journal, Volume 36, Spring 2023,,nondiscrimination%20on%20the%20basis%20of

Jaafar H, Ismail SY, Azzeri A. Period Poverty: A Neglected Public Health Issue. Korean J Fam Med. 2023;44(4):183-188. doi:10.4082/kjfm.22.0206

Goddard SJ, Sommer M. Menstrual health and hygiene management and WASH in urban slums: gaps in the evidence and recommendations. wH2O J Gend Water. 2020;7:1–9.

Chinyama, J., Chipungu, J., Rudd, C. et al. Menstrual hygiene management in rural schools of Zambia: a descriptive study of knowledge, experiences and challenges faced by schoolgirls. BMC Public Health 19, 16 (2019).

Access to free period products, Poverty and social justice, Scottish Government,,and%20when%20they%20are%20required.

Photo by Natracare on Unsplash

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