“The weather is not good”: exploring the menstrual health experiences of menstruators with and without disabilities in Vanuatu

Elsevier, The Lancet Regional Health - Western Pacific, Volume 18, January 2022
Wilbur J., Morrison C., Iakavai J., Shem J., Poilapa R., Bambery L. et al.

Background: Menstrual health is essential for gender equality and achieving the sustainable development goals. Though currently lacking, understanding and addressing menstrual health and social related inequalities requires comparison of experiences between menstruators with and without disabilities. Methods: We completed a mixed-methods population-based study of water, sanitation and hygiene, disability and menstrual health in TORBA and SANMA Provinces, Vanuatu. Methods included a census, nested case-control study, in-depth interviews (IDIs), focus group discussions (FGDs), PhotoVoice and structured observations. We undertook a population census of 11,000+ households and recruited 164 menstruators with and 169 without disabilities (aged 10-45) into a nested case-control study. 20 menstruators across both groups were selected for the qualitative component. Findings: Menstruators with disabilities were five times (adjusted Odds Ratio [aOR] 5.5, 95% Confidence Interval 1.8 – 16.5) more likely to use different bathing facilities to others in the household, nearly twice as likely (1.8, 1.1 – 3.1) to miss social activities, and three times (3.0, 1.6 – 5.7) more likely to eat alone during menstruation. Menstrual restrictions were widespread for all, but collecting water and managing menstrual materials was harder for menstruators with disabilities, particularly those requiring caregivers’ support. These factors negatively impacted menstruators with disabilities’ comfort, safety and hygiene, yet they reported less interference of menstruation on participation. Interpretation: Negative factors affecting all menstruators disproportionately impact those with disabilities, compounding existing inequalities. Menstruators with disabilities may have reported less interference because they are accustomed to greater participation restrictions than others. Funding: Australian Government's Water for Women fund and public donations.