Nearly Half of Women and Girls Experience Absenteeism during their Menstrual Cycle, Study Finds

Majuro – Many women and girls in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) are missing school, work, and sporting commitments during their menstrual cycle due to their inability to manage menstruation outside of their homes, according to a study conducted by the Cookhouse Confidential group with support from International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The study conducted on 190 women and girls in Majuro Atoll, Ebeye Island, Wotje Atoll and Jaluit Atoll found that a staggering 46 per cent of girls and 44 per cent of women reported they missed up to three days of school and work per month, respectively, due to their menstrual cycle.

“Research is critical to effect policy change that is evidence-based and adapted to adequately support the unique needs of women and girls in the RMI context, especially to understand how we can achieve improved access to resources and services during times of disaster,” said Angela Saunders, Head of the IOM office in RMI.

Saunders added, “Absenteeism has dire consequences on girls’ education and may have negative effects including loss of wages and career advancement opportunities for women in the workplace.”

The study found possible reasons for absenteeism during menstruation include limited access, or financial means, to purchase menstrual products, a lack of knowledge of the most effective and appropriate menstrual products, inadequate Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) facilities, and weak institutional support.

The vulnerability of women and girls is heightened during disaster situations as it may be more difficult for them to undertake their regular menstrual management practices due to displacement, cramped living situations, or limited privacy and they may face an even greater challenge accessing WASH facilities and menstrual products.

“Policy recommendations identified in the study, including better-quality education and awareness around menstrual hygiene management and improved affordability and availability of hygiene products, are crucial to reducing absenteeism of women and girls,” said Australian Embassy Charge d’Affaires, Katrina Murray.

Findings of the study were presented last week (27/05) as IOM, in partnership with the Australian Embassy in the Marshall Islands, marked Menstrual Hygiene Day at an event attended by NGO, diplomatic, educational and private sector stakeholders. The event included a presentation of menstrual dignity kits that IOM is providing in RMI under the Care nan Kora program, thanks to funding (AUD 90,000) from the Government of Australia. In total, 700 families in vulnerable situations are being supported with much needed dignity kits and prepositioning supplies during disaster situations or a COVID-19 outbreak.

Through its partnership with the Australian Embassy, and generous funding from Australian Aid, IOM procures, assembles, and distributes female dignity kits to support women and girls in vulnerable situations who are disproportionately impacted due to pre-existing inequalities and gender norms.

The dignity kits have a particular aim to build preparedness in the event of a disaster situation, such as a drought or a typhoon, or a COVID-19 outbreak in RMI.

“We know that women can be especially impacted by lockdowns and other measures when crises impact a community. This is why we are so pleased to partner with IOM to deliver the kind of frontline assistance that makes a difference to women and girls in RMI – getting ahead of the problem wherever we can,” Ms. Murray said.

Notably, women entrepreneurs are further being empowered to produce and distribute reusable menstrual hygiene products to women and girls in remote locations.

In collaboration with the Gender and Protection Cluster and the Risk Communications and Community Engagement Group of the RMI, IOM incorporates information, education, and communication (IEC) materials into all dignity kits to ensure women and girls are well-informed about menstrual health management and usage of the contents in the kit. The IEC materials also include referral information for cases of Gender-Based Violence and COVID-19 mitigation measures.