This week on The Leak, we feature this excerpt from Radha Paudel and Noor Jung Shah’s paper “Is MD a driver in child marriage?” from our partner organisation the Global South Coalition for Dignified Menstruation (GSCDM). The authors explain the connection that they see between menstrual discrimination and practices of child marriage in India, Bangladesh and Niger, giving five recommendations to ensure that menstruating individuals rights and education around their own bodies are respected and upheld, ending harmful practices which fail to uphold their autonomy and health.
For the purposes of this blog, ‘menstrual discrimination’ refers to the discrimination that occurs when prejudice, ignorance and intolerance about the nature of menstruation imposes restrictions, neglect and abuse upon those who menstruate, negatively impacting their physical, emotional, social, political and economic agency and wellbeing. Expressions of menstrual discrimination are forms of sexual and gender-based violence and represent violations of fundamental human rights.
Menstrual discrimination and child marriage are intrinsically linked with each other. Menstrual discrimination is a direct cause of child marriage. Both are the result of the imbalance of power and gender inequality inculcated into girls since childhood, that is, constructed and shaped by the stigmas and discriminatory practices that disempower menstruators.
In order to reframe the attitudes and behaviours of all members of society, interventions for ending child marriage should be initiated in early childhood where the dialogue on equal rights among all persons should include equal opportunity and menstrual dignity. Because the ages between 6-12 years are recognized as crucial for children to understand their own selves and build self-esteem, these years form the base for lifelong learning (Donald, et al., 2019). The interactions with family, school, and peers are key factors for learning and adapting to the social norms, and require a positive, consistent, supportive environment (Sørlie, Hagen, & Nordahl, 2020). This is the `age of reason’ where children develop new capabilities, are assigned roles and responsibilities, develop logical thinking, reasoning, and problem solving (NCBI, 2021). The long lasting cognitive and emotional effects depend on the environment, including the levels of nutrition, stress, stimulation, and social interaction (The Lancet, 2007). In this context, menstrual dignity has a significant role to play in creating an equal sense of power and opportunity among girls and boys, including agency and confidence regarding their bodies. Menstrual discrimination is one of the important contributing factors that fuels child marriage or forced marriage, along with other factors; poverty, insecurity and gender inequality (Girls Not Brides, 2021).
However, no significant study has taken place as yet to change the narrative and expose the link between menstrual discrimination and child marriage. Only the GSCDM has recognized the underlying power construction among girls and boys where girls become the victims, including through child marriage, and boys become the perpetrators (Paudel, 2020). Following the decades of failed interventions to abolish child marriage and the centuries of undermining women’s rights and stigmatizing menstruation, it is urgent that more research is undertaken to expose the link between these two issues.
There are different international laws to ensure the rights of each citizen and a Sustainable Development Goals road map for each country to ensure the policy of “Leave No One Behind”. But, there are still cultural norms and practices which directly restrict girls’ activities and opportunities during menstruation, in all social and cultural settings, because they are labeled untouchable, unclean and unworthy persons during menstruation. This deeply impacts girls’ resilience and self-worth. Schools are not motivated or equipped to include dignified menstruation at primary level education and school management committees and teachers do not seriously try to expose the stigma or disallow discrimination at school. Thus, school girls are very often compelled to be absent from school during menstruation, and in this way are treated as unequal to boys, dehumanized or degraded by teachers and classmates. Such circumstances directly impact girls’ quality of education and quality of social life. Girls that cannot compete with boys or complete their education cannot be resilient and make effective and empowered decisions. Families and society then make decisions for girls, even unwittingly. In this situation, girls are compelled to marry, but this status does not protect them from the ongoing menstrual stigmas imposed by society and family throughout a girl’s menstruating life.
The national, regional and global level strategies, action plans and campaigns that intensively and directly address child marriage omit mention of one of the driving forces of the power dynamic that perpetuates child marriage: menstrual discrimination. The issue of menstrual discrimination needs to be urgently considered and included in all strategies, action plans and advocacy to abolish child marriage.
- Child marriage is complex issue that deprives a person of their human rights and therefore stand-alone interventions are not effective for ending the practice. Menstrual discrimination should be included as one of the key drivers for child marriage.
- The dialogue on dignified menstruation at home, in schools and communities is important for exposing traditional stigmas around menstrual discrimination and child marriage simultaneously. The dialogue is important, starting at home and in primary schools, so that the concept of dignified menstruation becomes an integral part of socialization processes and community building.
- As in Nepal, the state needs to develop policies and laws to effectively tackle menstrual discrimination, promote menstrual dignity and ensure that these instruments are enforced.
- Multiple conventions, treaties, and international agreements exist to protect children from early marriage and social inequality and discrimination. These conventions and treaties need to address the stigma against menstruation.
- Menstrual discrimination and child marriage need to be understood as intrinsically linked in the global discourse on human rights, specially during the development of progress reports such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), CEDAW report and CRC.
The research paper is available on the GSCDM website here: https://
To learn more about the Global South Coalition on Dignified Menstruation please visit: https://dignifiedmenstruation.org/
Radha Paudel, is a nurse, author, educator and activist. She is a pioneer of dignity during menstruation who has challenged menstrual discrimination since childhood. She is the Founder of the Global South Coalition for Dignified Menstruation. Radha has received national and international awards for her work and books.
Noor Jung Shah
Noor Jung Shah is an education specialist based in Nepal who has worked for various organisations supporting girls eduation. Noor has a Master Degree in Sociology and Anthropology as well as a Master Degree in Public Administration and Urban Development.