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For too long, issues connected to hygiene, sanitation and health have been perceived as hygiene factors, peripheral for public progress. With “The Hygiene & Health Report” being published today by Essity and the UN entity Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, we want to challenge this perception. Drawing on findings from our global bi-annual survey, expert interviews and real-life stories from people around the world, the report demonstrates how hygiene and health are critical catalysts for social and economic development.
In the report we get to meet Asha, an 11-year-old girl living in Assam, India. As a strong believer in gender equality, it is hard not to be moved when reading about how menstruation puts Asha at disadvantage in school.
“Sometimes I stay away from school as it is too difficult to sit through classes all day without proper places to change and wash without my classmates and teachers knowing that I have my periods”, she says.
Sadly, Asha is far from alone in her experiences. The issue of menstruation is surrounded by taboo and shame, and effectively keeps girls away from schools and women from work.
What if we managed to fight the taboo, and started integrating menstrual hygiene management as a perspective in urban planning? Not only would it give Asha an equal opportunity to realize her basic human rights and participate in school; it would also create a global path to women´s empowerment and enable us to realize our full potential together.
To us, these societal implications are what hygiene and health is all about. In the report you can read about how teaching children to wash their hands improves the quality of education, how accessible toilets are key to enabling women’s workforce participation and how hand hygiene systems and visual cues in medical institutions mitigate antimicrobial resistance.
These are all examples of how investing in hygiene and health drives social progress. Often, the resources required are much less than we might think. And even when the needed investments are significant, the rewards for the individual and the society are always greater.
Today we have a good understanding of what it takes in terms of hygiene and health to create a society where everyone has equal opportunities to realize their human rights.
We truly hope you find the report as interesting and important as we do. To put these insights into action, we all need to collaborate.