Making the case for MHH and climate resilience

A woman props up her child on a wooden boat as they cruises through a the Tonle Sap lake in Cambodia

Insights from Water for Women and iDE on Menstrual Health Day 2024 

Managing menstruation in a changing climate

Sophea, a 32-year-old woman, lives in a seasonally flooded area in the Tonle Sap in Cambodia. She faces the challenge of managing menstruation amidst the changing landscape during the monsoon rains. During the dry season, Sophea discreetly disposes of her used disposable pads by burying or burning them near her home. However, due to the flooding, disposal becomes more complicated when the rainy season arrives.

Like many other women, Sophea usually keeps used pads in plastic bags in her home until the water recedes and the waste can be buried or burned. She’s heard that some women dispose of them in waterways.


What’s Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) got to do with Climate resilience? 

As we can see from Sophea’s story above, MHH has plenty to do with climate resilience. In tandem with the social stigma associated with menstruation, climate hazards such as storms, droughts or flooding, can leave women like Sophea with little choice in how they can safely dispose of used menstrual products. Climate-resilient communities cannot be fully realised without dignified and safe menstruation being made possible for all people who menstruate. MHH and climate resilience go hand in hand in three key areas:

1. Environmental impacts
  • Period product. Prevalent use of non-recyclable and non-biodegradable disposable period products pollutes waterways and contributes to landfills, microplastics, and blocks sewer systems.

  • Menstrual Waste Management. Constraints in safe disposal mechanisms mean that people resort to burning, burying or disposing of these products in latrines, which adversely impacts air and soil quality and is hazardous for sanitation systems.

  • Harmful social norms. Behaviours associated with the two points above rely heavily on the limited choices afforded to people who menstruate, because of the stigma related to menstruation as a process that is impure and dirty, and therefore a practice that is shameful and needs to be hidden. 

2. Menstruation is deeply linked to climate change

  • Menstruation management. Increasing climate-related extreme weather events (droughts and floods) creates ever greater challenges for managing menstruation.
  • Access to period products. Displacement, interruptions in supply chains and resulting limited availability affect access to period products, particularly for the most marginalised populations, further exacerbating existing inequalities. Furthermore, climate change is exacerbating poverty which makes it more challenging to afford period products.
  • Access to water and sanitation facilities. Extreme weather events place pressure on or destroy these facilities, impacting access and safe disposal methods. Too little water (droughts) or too much water (storms and flooding) can make it more difficult to access clean water for drinking, bathing and washing menstrual products. 

3. Health and resilience impacts

  • Climate change limits access to products and services. If people who menstruate do not have access to products and services they need to manage their menstruation safely and with dignity, their health and resilience will be strongly compromised, which in turn affects the resilience and health of their families and communities.


A woman in Vanuatu holds a bucket of water and looks at the camera, she is stands behind a series of pots and buckets all full of water for her washing and cleaning

Dorcas, a 30-year-old woman from Vanua Lava Vanuatu, collects groundwater and fills pots in order for her to wash her family's clothes and dishes. For many women in the Pacific, managing menstrual health without adequate WASH infrastructure is an immense and ongoing struggle.

(Photo: World Vision Vanuatu)

Investing in MHH is investing in climate resilience

MHH is critical to health and promoting resilience in several ways:
  • Meaningful participation. Education, work and social activities. Access to safe and hygienic period products and facilities, women, girls and gender diverse people are better able to manage their menstruation and stay healthy. This can lead to improved educational outcomes, increased economic opportunities, and greater participation in social and political life, including the resilience to withstand and adapt to the economic and social impacts of climate change.

  • Physical and mental health and wellbeing. Poor menstrual hygiene can lead to several health problems, including infections, reproductive health complications, and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Access to safe, culturally appropriate, and desirable period products and WASH facilities, means that people who menstruate are less likely to experience health problems that can make them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as malnutrition and infectious diseases. Further, safe and dignified menstrual hygiene management supports their coping strategies to deal with the stress and anxiety associated with climate change related hazards and disasters.

  • Gender equity. When women, girls and gender diverse people are able to manage their menstruation safely and with dignity, they are better able to exercise their rights and choices. Choice and bodily autonomy are central to resilient communities.


Ways Water for Women are investing in MHH for climate resilience

For the past six years, Water for Women partners across the Asia Pacific region have been working together with their project stakeholders and partnerships (government, private sector and rights holder organisations) to end period poverty and contribute to climate resilience in four key areas:

  1. Social support. Addressing barriers related to taboos and social norms by facilitating a multi-stakeholder approach to advocate for the provision of inclusive WASH facilities and accessible menstrual products and communication materials, as well as integrating MHH into WASH guidelines.
  2. Knowledge and skills. Building MHH understanding and competency at community and institutional levels to address stigma and allocate resources and budget, including for children with disabilities. This includes advancing opportunities to include MHH in climate resilient water safety and disaster preparedness plans.
  3. Menstrual products. Addressing the limitations of disposal practices exacerbated by climate change by increasing awareness for reusable or biodegradable options through supporting entrepreneurs to develop and promote affordable and sustainable products.
  4. Facilities and services. Developing partnerships with a range of stakeholders including in health, education and private sectors to incorporate MHH in guidelines and in technical guidance for different settings that focus on menstrual hygiene friendly WASH facilities and services, as well as service chains for solid waste management that increase options for safe disposal. This becomes ever more urgent with increasing prevalence of climate related disasters and hazards, which significantly impact on water quality and access.


Four women stand smiling to camera in Jaipur India a sign on the wall indicates that they are working at a Pad Bank


Members of a Women's Self-help Group in downtown Jaipur, India provide the local community with menstrual products through their Sanitary Napkin unit.

(Photo: CFAR Archives)

Call to Action

Let’s work together for a period-friendly and climate-resilient world by:

Investing in water and sanitation infrastructure that is based on human centred design and designed to be resilient to extreme and slow onset weather events.

Strengthening systems to ensure access to and provision of affordable and sustainable MHH products and safe disposal mechanisms.

Working to proactively shift harmful social norms that perpetuate stigma and taboo about menstruation, ensuring strong Do No Harm approaches are in place.

Supporting people who menstruate with accessible information to equip them to manage their menstruation safely and with dignity in all circumstances.

Integrating MHH into disaster preparedness and response plans.

Ensuring MHH is included in climate financing plans, with adequate budget and resource allocation to make all the above actions a reality for women, girls and gender diverse people who menstruate.

Only by having holistic systems change and multi-stakeholder approach which actively address all the areas above, can we shift the dial to ensure the millions of people like Sophea are able to manage their menstruation in safety and with dignity. In a rapidly changing climate, we cannot afford to do anything else. More investment for MHH now means far fewer costs and risks down the track - a very tangible pathway to community and climate resilience! 


This insight was written collaboratively by Joanna Mott, Water for Women’s GEDSI Adviser, in conjunction with Elise Mann, Senior Manager of WASH Innovation & Performance at iDE Global; Rana Abdel Sattar, WASH Program Manager at iDE Cambodia; and Claire Meyer, WASH Innovation & Partnerships Manager at iDE Cambodia.

The views expressed in this article are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Water for Women, the Australian Government or our partners.


Menstrual Hygiene Day is observed every year on May 28th to emphasise the importance of menstrual care and raise awareness about the challenges many women face in accessing safe and affordable menstrual products and facilities. The theme for 2024 is "Together for a #PeriodFriendlyWorld," highlighting our collective responsibility to ensure dignified and safe menstruation for all.

Despite being a natural and essential process, access to safe menstrual products, clean water, private sanitation facilities, sexual health education, and a life free of stigma and enforced isolation when menstruating remains a luxury for many, particularly in Asia and the Pacific. 

Nearly 800 million people menstruate daily, including girls, women, and gender-diverse people. However, many struggle to manage their menstruation with dignity and in safe, hygienic conditions. Climate change further exacerbates these challenges, impacting both the availability of period products and the people who need them, and consequently limiting opportunities for education and participation in economic and social activities.

Menstrual hygiene also has significant environmental consequences. Over 12 billion single-use products are discarded annually, and without adequate sanitation facilities and safe disposal mechanisms, these products end up in landfills and polluting waterways. Addressing these issues requires a systems change focus that supports sustainable solutions which consider appropriate resourcing to holistically address the needs of people who menstruate.

Access to safe, hygienic, and sustainable menstrual products and facilities reduces health risks, enhances resilience against climate impacts, and empowers women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals to pursue education and employment and advocate for their needs and interests.

By working together, we can create a world where menstruation is a normal part of life, not a barrier to opportunity or environmental sustainability. Together, we can build a #PeriodFriendly and climate-resilient world for all.


Header photo: A mother and child traverse the Tonle Sap Lake in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia (Photo: iDE Cambodia)


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