Justice is Justice, Period.

By Anna Thabuis.

Picture by Siddesh Mangela via Unsplash

In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the intersectionality of social justice issues. Among the many intersections that have emerged is the intersection of period justice and environmental justice. While, period justice seeks to make the experience of menstruation more financially accessible, sustainable, equitable, and accepted there are many definitions of environmental justice, but the consensus is that it seeks to equitably distribute quality environment amongst social groups. The goal of environmental justice is to ensure that all people are treated fairly and given the opportunity to participate in the creation, implementation, and enforcement of environmental policies, programs, laws, and regulations.

While each of these issues alone is of great importance, considering them together illuminates a crucial, yet often overlooked aspect of their impact on society. Access to clean water and sanitation is critical for maintaining public health, including menstrual health. However, inequities in WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) infrastructure affect marginalized communities in unique ways, particularly in relation to menstrual hygiene. 

Period justice is an essential component of menstrual health and gender equity. Nevertheless, the barriers faced by people that menstruate due to lack of proper support and access to WASH facilities further gender inequality and perpetuate cycles of poverty. Lack of support and access to menstrual care can severely disrupt a menstruator’s life and limit their opportunities, for example, one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle, and a lack of adequate menstrual hygiene management results in missed workdays, lower productivity, and income loss. Additionally, shame and stigma associated with menstruation can lead to social isolation and reduced educational and economic opportunities. The lack of access to safe and clean WASH facilities only exacerbates these challenges, leading to detrimental health impacts, persistent poverty, and gender inequality. 

Periods are often surrounded by shame and taboo, pushing the topic out of important conversations. Menstrual health has not typically been taken into account in the planning and construction of water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) systems, and there is still a dearth of public understanding of women’s health in civil society, governments, and the commercial sector. Consequently, menstruating people often are not provided the proper care and environment to make periods more manageable. It is crucial that people that menstruate have access to water and sanitary facilities in order to manage menstruation in a hygienic and dignified manner.They require a private area to change their menstrual products, access to clean water and soap for washing their bodies and reusable clothing, and facilities for properly discarding old items or drying them if they are reusable. 

Although menstruation is a natural process, without proper WASH, it can lead to health issues and disrupt day-to-day routine. It is estimated that approximately half of schools in low-income countries lack adequate water and sanitation facilities, putting people that menstruate at risk of missing school during their periods. It’s important to take into account the effects of limited access to WASH. on the psycho-social wellness of women, girls, and other people that menstruate. Inadequate access to WASH. facilities can lead to stigma, shame, and anxiety around menstruation, especially for people that menstruate in low-income settings, fostering stress levels, feelings of dread and embarrassment, and social exclusion throughout the menstrual cycle.

Picture by Josephine via  Unsplash

Addressing the intersection of WASH, menstrual health, and gender equality is crucial for menstrual equity and ensuring that every individual has access to safe menstruation practices. Upon achieving period justice, the health outcomes for individuals increase and they are less likely to face hygiene barriers that can impact their daily lives.

It is crucial to note that WASH is a fundamental human right, and it plays a key role in achieving environmental justice. Access to clean water, safe sanitation, and appropriate hygiene practices is essential to protect our environment, reduce pollution, and promote sustainability. According to the World Health Organization, inadequate sanitation alone is responsible for 829 000 deaths in low- and middle-income countries. In addition, poor hygiene practices can negatively impact soil quality, contaminating food, and drinking water sources and contributing significantly to environmental degradation. Addressing WASH inequalities is, therefore, critical to ensuring environmental justice, reducing inequality, and protecting the planet for future generations. Promoting access to safe water and sanitation facilities can mitigate the impact of environmental degradation.

Yet, environmental degradation is not a gender-neutral and non-classist phenomenon, as a matter of fact, environmental injustice is disproportionately felt by those from marginalized communities and those living in low-income areas, particularly women. The barriers and responsibilities already experienced by women are exacerbated by the climate crisis and environmental degradation. Indeed, as natural resources are getting increasingly scarce and added pressure is put on the agricultural sector, women are facing more and more challenges to accessing opportunities and having to forgo their needs in order to take care of those dependent on them. At the family and communal levels, women are crucial to the management of natural resources as well as other productive and reproductive tasks. When a family’s survival is at stake, “women have to choose between buying a pound of rice or a pack of feminine sanitary pads”. Moreover, environmental disasters, by generating environmental degradation and even displacing people, also increase the barriers to access to WASH, which in turn exacerbates the cycle of poverty, period poverty, and gender inequality. 

By looking at period justice and environmental justice side by side, we see a vicious cycle appear. People that menstruate are experiencing significant challenges to proper menstrual care linked to limited access to WASH. facilities and economic opportunities and their increasing vulnerability to environmental degradation. In turn, all of these perpetuate cycles of poverty, further the limited access to WASH, and exacerbate vulnerability to disasters and environmental disasters, which raise barriers to period justice and gender equality, and so on and so forth. All in all, fighting period injustice requires all to consider the intersectionality of the issue.

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