The International Menstrual Health Entrepreneurship Roundup
A university-based information resource focusing on economic access issues around menstrual products and education, and on the organizations and entrepreneurs worldwide that work to meet those needs in their local communities.
The Washington Post calls IMHER “a comprehensive clearinghouse for people interested in the issue — whether they hope to reduce menstruation taboos, come up with new solutions for menstrual equity, or just learn more about menstrual health around the world…The website gathers information on menstrual health education and products and innovations designed to address these challenges. Highlights include a database of research studies related to menstrual health management and a thoughtful roundup of settled issues and ongoing debates in the field.” (April 13, 2019)
A PROMISING TIME FOR GLOBAL MENSTRUAL HEALTH
Solutions are on the horizon
The needs of girls and women around the world are still often not met. In the arena of menstrual health management (MHM), far too many menstruators still lack access to comfortable and effective menstrual supplies that they can afford to buy. Moreover, menstrual taboos and lack of puberty education can discourage discussions within families, with far too many girls around the globe learning about periods only after having worried that they were gravely ill when they started to bleed themselves.
Even when girls manage to learn about menstruation, boys and men are still too often left out of the conversation entirely. The mystery around how female bodies work can serve to leave menstrual stigma entrenched for each successive generation.
Those are big problems. However, there is also ample cause for hope on the horizon.
Production innovations have the potential to reduce the costs of products, while minimizing harm to the environment. Some governments have been reducing taxes on menstrual health products, or committing to educational and/or product interventions in schools. Training opportunities and loan support programs targeted at female entrepreneurs are helping women build successful female-focused businesses. And a #MeToo era has ushered in a focus on the neglected needs of girls, and has been generating high-profile discussions about menstruation and the problem of menstrual stigma.
The time seems ripe for progress. A key question, though, is how menstrual health innovators can be empowered to make the most out of this changing landscape so they can most effectively help people in their communities.
THE INFORMATION CHALLENGE
MHM information is hard to find
Despite an increasing number of entrepreneurs and not-for-profit organizations entering the MHM arena globally, there are still few sources of aggregated information on the topic. Knowing who is doing what and where, and which resources exist for others to use, has been a mystery for far too long.
Knowledge always benefits from dispersion, and from varied perspectives. Because the stakes in this arena are so high – both for menstruators who want alternatives and for the mostly-female led organizations that seek to address those needs – having access to information is crucial.
However, at this juncture, we know of only one other website that tries to consolidate information about MHM on anything more than a selective basis (MH Hub), and it has a somewhat different, but complementary, approach to information and its organization.
The availability of easily-accessible information on this topic will hopefully help to reduce the “trench warfare” feeling – that is, the constant challenge of having to solve urgent problems with limited information and difficulty connecting with those busy in other trenches themselves – that has not been uncommon among those doing global MHM work.
Additionally, the empowerment of the mostly-female leaders in this sector is a critical part of our mission. In that context, we have worked to create tools that can allow smaller organizations to avoid the often-hefty consulting fees that used to be required to locate some types of information, or to obtain introductions to others doing similar work. While efficient, scalable, and “low touch” by design, IMHER also serves to allow “higher touch” relationships to develop between innovators, by allowing them to more easily find and connect with each other, at no cost to anyone.
An information-rich resource for MHM innovators, from an objective source
We intend for IMHER (the “International Menstrual Health Entrepreneurship Roundup“) to function as a living repository of MHM industry information to be drawn on by innovators in the field. This resource has been created, and will be maintained, by a university research team with no financial stake in the menstrual hygiene sector.
This project started with the idea of supporting the work of smaller market-based entrepreneurs and locally-developed not-for-profit organizations that are operating in lower-income, under-served areas in developing countries. These types of organizations are often too lean and under-resourced to hire professional researchers to locate the foundational information needed to identify the range options available for doing this type of work well.
That said, virtually everyone working in this sector has far too much to do, and too little time and money with which to do it. Anyone within the MHM sector – or those merely interested in learning more about it – may find information and ideas of use here. Our focus is global, and part of what we think makes menstrual health interesting is learning about how the issues associated with it vary or remain the same across different cultures.
IMHER is designed to help fill in existing informational gaps, by documenting existing information while providing opportunities for those in the field to share their ideas with others doing similar work.
We do so partly by using a database platform designed with powerful filter and search capabilities. With that, we combine an approach to information gathering that works to dig beneath the surface level and strip out the fluff and unsubstantiated claims that often dominate online discussions of MH issues. We also providing various avenues for readers to participate in the development of website content and topic coverage.
A COLLABORATIVE WORK IN PROGRESS
Just the first step
This is a university-based project that is heavily dependent on a rotating team of part-time student researchers. It has a project structure that makes the building and maintenance of this website, and the information it contains, a learning experience for all involved in it.
What you are seeing here now is just the first step. IMHER will always be a work in progress. This website will become better as we move forward and learn more about the work being done on these issues around the globe.
IMHER is also a collaborative effort with our readers, with a moderated crowd-sourcing approach to supplementing our information and databases. As such, please send us corrections, organization or resource additions, blog story ideas, MH event and deadline information, tips about MHM tech innovations, and any general feedback using the contact forms on the contact page. Also, consider contributing comments to the blog posts to collectively build ideas about each of those topics.
By providing feedback on the website, you can help to build IMHER into a more useful resource for yourself, as well as for the many others who are doing the important work of empowering menstruators with information and options in their own communities around the world.
PHOTO CREDITS: Photo 1 – Ruby Cup (Kenya) – Photo 2 – Saral Designs (India) – Photo 3 – The “Break the Silence” Campaign (India). COVER PHOTO at top of page: The Sure Start campaign in Nigeria. Photo by Lucy Ladidi Elukpo