The Vanuatu Red Cross Society is collaborating with Australian Red Cross and James Cook University (Australia), to conduct a study to better understand girls’ and women’s knowledge and management of menstruation, their menstrual hygiene needs and preferences.

The study is also exploring challenges related to managing menstruation in disaster settings and how these might be addressed.

192 women and girls, including five people with disability are participating in the study and are asked to trial a menstrual hygiene product (either disposable or re-useable pads) for two months and then shared their experience and thoughts on the product.

The study also asked women and girls for their ideas about what would make it easier for them to manage their menstruation in a disaster setting.

9 staff and volunteers from SHEFA and SANMA RC Branches are deployed in four communities on Tangoa Island and Mango station in Santo, Epau village and Ohlen Freshwind on Efate to conduct the study.

The purpose of this study is for VRCS to help communities affected by disasters such as cyclones and volcanic eruptions.

This help may include distributing menstrual pads to women and girls, providing education around menstruation and hygiene, and ensuring access to appropriate facilities to bathe, change and dispose of used materials, or wash and dry menstrual cloths. It is another approach for VRCS to strengthen its programming and interventions to support girls and women in the safe and dignified management of menstruation in the context of a disaster.

Menstruation in most parts of Vanuatu is still taboo for men and women to freely discuss.

Beliefs still exist about women being unclean, leading women to hide their menstruation rags, clothes or abstain from regular every day activities such as gardening, and cooking.

Mothers often don’t discuss menstruation with their daughters, as it is seen as encouraging girls to engage in sexual experimentation. Based on observation, most girls in Vanuatu have limited or no knowledge on menstrual hygiene at menarche (first period).

Girls who attend class may experience reduced self-confidence and concentration, and be less engaged in lessons. This may be due to menstruation-related discomfort, being too embarrassed to stand up for fear of a stained uniform, or of being teased.

The study is funded by the Australian Aid Program.