Menstruation, a natural occurrence for women of reproductive age, involves the monthly shedding of the uterine lining. It is an inevitable part of being a woman and plays a significant role in the menstrual cycle.

During their menstrual cycle, some women may experience hesitancy in engaging with the world due to shyness, discrimination, or related issues. To address this, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) organised a four-day event called Menstrual Health Day from May 25-28. The event aimed to raise awareness, stop discrimination against menstruating women, and support their empowerment.

Tith Reanu Pichet interviewed Chhim Sarath, the regional director for Asia at AHF, about the commemoration of Menstrual Health Day. In the interview, Sarath shed light on the significance of the event and the discrimination faced by menstruating women, particularly in developing countries and impoverished communities.

What is a woman’s menstrual cycle?

A woman’s menstrual cycle is a natural process which occurs in every woman of reproductive age. It involves the shedding of the uterine lining, which happens monthly. Menstruation is an evolutionary and inherent characteristic of women.

What is Menstrual Health Day? When is it celebrated?

Menstrual Health Day is an important occasion dedicated to promoting awareness about menstruation and eliminating discrimination against women who menstruate. It takes place annually on May 28 and is observed in Cambodia from May 25 to 28 since 2014.

How do you observe the variations in discrimination against women in general versus those who are living with HIV?

Menstruating women, in general, already face discrimination, and those living with HIV might experience additional discrimination due to fears of transmission. Discrimination can prevent women from accessing proper healthcare and participating in social activities. This situation is particularly challenging for students, potentially leading to them discontinue their studies.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation organised a four-day celebration under the theme “Stop Discrimination” from May 25-28. Various locations, including schools and communities, including the NCHADS-AHF clinic, hosted the event.

As part of their efforts, the organisation distributed 3,200 packs of sanitary pads to raise awareness for global Menstrual Health Day.

What activities has your organisation taken in the past to combat discrimination against menstruating women in Cambodia?

We have been engaged in this work since 2014, and it is an additional aspect of our organisation. In fact, our main focus is on the treatment, care, and protection of individuals living with HIV.

However, as we identified a need for support during menstruation among women, we felt compelled to expand our contribution towards addressing these shortcomings.

In particular, our organisation contributes by educating girls in poor communities as well as in schools so they can understand proper hygiene during menstruation, to understand their inevitable nature. In addition, we also provide sanitary pads and supplies to women in poor communities for them to use during menstruation and promote overall wellness among women.

What additional actions should relevant institutions take to increase awareness among people, particularly men, and put an end to discrimination against women?

It is good if we incorporate this topic into various educational programmes would be beneficial in increasing awareness for men as well as women themselves.

What are your expectations as someone who promotes women’s health?

I hope our people become more aware and supportive of women, particularly during menstruation.

It’s important for everyone to recognise menstruation is a natural process for women. If we all make an effort to understand and support instead of discriminating against, then our women can receive proper healthcare during this time and contribute to our society even better.

According to AIDS Healthcare Foundation, over 1.8 billion people worldwide, approximately 500 million menopausal women lack access to safe facilities and hygiene products to manage their menstrual health.

Menstrual Health Day, celebrated worldwide on May 28, was first celebrated in Cambodia by advocates in 2014 to highlight the crucial need for menstrual health education, empowering all menstruating people towards better health and well-being.