Were there no female prisoners in 1957? Of course there were. But the people who came up with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners in 1957 didn’t really pay attention to what it means to be female. The rules contained no information about menstruation at all.
The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules provide guidelines for treatment of citizens held in prisons and other forms of custody. They apply to accommodation, food, exercise, medical services, etc, etc. When it comes to personal hygiene for example, it’s clearly stated in the rules that men should be able to trim their hair and beard: ‘And men shall be enabled to shave regularly’. This way, prisoners can maintain a good appearance and self-respect.
‘Prisoners shall be required to keep their persons clean’
That’s all fine, but what about women? True, the guidelines cover many aspects of giving birth in prison. But there’s not a single word about menstruating women and their needs. Only some general statements about personal hygiene: ‘Prisoners shall be required to keep their persons clean, and to this end they shall be provided with water and with such toilet articles as are necessary for health and cleanliness.’
In 2015, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners were revised and adopted as the Nelson Mandela Rules. Changes were made to different sections, such as the basic principles -more rules added against discrimination- and health-care services; ‘the services of a qualified dentist shall be available to every prisoner’. However, even in 2015 there’s still nothing specific about menstruation or the availability of sanitary napkins and tampons.