Tackling menstrual hygiene in remote Australia

University of Queensland researcher Nina Hall investigates water and hygiene in remote Indigenous communities

When University of Queensland researcher Nina Hall published an article on The Conversation about Indigenous girls in remote communities missing school during their periods, the response was overwhelming.

Dr Hall, from the School of Public Health, highlighted an issue most Australian women wouldn’t think twice about – accessing clean water and sanitary products during menstruation.

But the reality for some Indigenous girls and women in remote Australian communities is that difficulties accessing sanitary products combined with a lack of functioning ‘health hardware’ (such as taps, toilets and showers) create barriers.

Dr Hall found that issues associated with cost, access, knowledge, embarrassment and cultural sensitivities around menstruation presented a challenge for girls and women in some remote Indigenous communities.

Combined with malfunctioning hardware, such as taps, toilets and washing machines, as well as a lack of waste bins and door locks, it presented a bigger challenge than simply providing sanitary products to girls.

“It’s not just about giving pads to girls; it’s about them having the knowledge of what to do and where to go and making them feel empowered,” Dr Hall said.

Dr Hall’s article touched a nerve and started a discussion around Indigenous health, with more than 9500 people viewing the article on different media and social media channels.

The story was republished in 490 other locations in Australia and overseas, and picked up by The Daily Mail UK, The Sydney Morning Herald and reddit.

It also led to interviews with Dr Hall being published in The Guardian, ABC radio and online and The Australian Water Association podcast and magazine series.

The original article was republished hundreds of times in different media.

The original article was republished hundreds of times in different media.

As a result, Dr Hall was contacted by more than a dozen individuals and organisations offering resources and products to assist with the provision of feminine hygiene products in these remote communities.

“I was heartened by the number of non-government organisations, individuals, charities and Indigenous groups who contacted me with offers of help,” she said.

Now Dr Hall, along with her co-authors from Water Aid and the Central Australian Youth Link Up Service, is hoping to work towards a strategy to provide ongoing assistance to the communities in need.

"We would like to provide an ongoing network of support to respond to the need," she said.

Charity groups responded to the call to help remote Indigenous communities.

Charity groups responded to the call to help remote Indigenous communities.

Dr Hall said that more needed to be done to address basic issues around sanitation infrastructure and education more broadly to counter issues not seen elsewhere in Australia.

She has been tracking the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals signed by Australia in 2015, which commits to providing access to water and sanitation for all by 2030.

"More than 100,000 Indigenous people live in remote communities," she said.

"Not all have access to safely managed water and hygiene.

“There are effective case studies that exist in Australia to put the spotlight not only on the problem, but also on the solution.

“It will take time and requires appropriate partnerships, but the solutions are very possible.”