5-6 JUNE 2018 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

From Stress to Success: Women, girls and the defining power of WASH

Supporting better health and empowerment through sanitation and hygiene

Lab debate
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
09:30 to 10:45

Millions of women and girls today lack the facilities, materials and information to manage the simple but vital biological acts of defecation and, especially, menstruation. In much of the world, menstruation means stigma, taboo and shame, keeping women from work and girls from school. This stigma, taboo and shame deny not only health and education; it denies dignity. There is good news: access to sanitation, hygiene and knowledge are proven drivers of life-long empowerment for adolescent girls. Focusing on real-life experiences and the latest evidence, the session will boast a dynamic, change-making dialogue between development partners, government representatives, women champions and academia.

Key points

  • Improved hygiene is key to women’s empowerment.
  • Menstrual bleedings are a particular challenge where sanitation is lacking.
  • Women should be able to make an informed choice on how to handle their personal hygiene.
  • Breaking the taboos regarding menstruation would significantly improve women’s health and enable full participation in society and the workplace.


Insufficient water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is a major obstacle to women’s health worldwide. For women to have a genuine choice in how to handle their personal hygiene and their menstrual cycle there must be an offer of sanitary products available.

In many low-income countries, that is a real challenge – whether it is for economic reasons or because of a cultural bias that restricts the choice of products. However, so-called period poverty is not only a problem in developing countries; statistics show that young women and teenage girls in European countries are sometimes faced with not having enough money to buy the supplies of their choice.

In rural areas in India, for example, women use whatever material is available for absorption, even dried leaves, ashes or sand, partly because industrially produced sanitary products are unaffordable on a regular basis. Even the most basic protection, such as towels held together by rubber straps, can alleviate the situation. The


Better sanitation takes big investments. Improved hygiene is not only about hand-washing. Personal and menstrual hygiene is of utmost importance to women’s health and social integration. Improved water sanitation worldwide is key to women’s empowerment.

Organised by


Cecilia Chatterjee-Martinsen
Chief Executive, WaterAid Sweden
Rolf Luyendijk
Executive Director
Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council
Louise Berg
Carmen Hagenaars
Deputy Director Inclusive Green Growth Department
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands
Nazi Kivutha
Shina Foundation
Trisha Shetty
UN Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goal 5, Founder & CEO