End the stigma and start normalizing periods this Menstrual Hygiene Day
The best advice I got from my dad about my period was: Don’t flush menstrual products down the toilet. I’m sure it wasn’t a conversation–who talks to their dad about their period? I certainly didn’t. I know he was more worried about our plumbing than the environment, but it was still good advice and I got the message. It’s the reason I’m puzzled whenever I see the sign in a public restroom telling me not to flush menstrual hygiene products down the toilet. Didn’t everyone have this talk with their dad? Probably not.
Judy Blume knew that periods were normal back in 1970 when she wrote Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret. Over 50 years later the book has been made into a movie, but attitudes have not changed much. Like no other topic or bodily function, menstruation and menstrual hygiene are stigmatized. People don’t want to talk about it despite the fact that 26% of the population is menstruating and 800 million people menstruate each day. In spite of these numbers, 58% of women have felt embarrassed because they were on their period. When we don’t talk about menstruation, it makes it harder to solve the environmental issues, health aspects and accessibility of menstrual products for people around the world. Menstrual Hygiene Day helps remove the stigma by spreading the message that periods are normal. In fact, the theme for 2023 is “Making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030”.
Menstruation: Let’s Talk Facts and Figures
A person menstruates when the egg is not fertilized and the uterine lining sheds, approximately every 28 days for 5 days during a woman’s reproductive life span (about 40 years). This adds up to 2,400 days or 6.5 years. A woman will use about 11,000 menstrual products in her lifetime. Where do all these used pads and tampons go?
Let’s Discuss the Environment
Textiles pervade landfills but like bottles, cans and paper, they are recyclable. The waste from tampons and pads aren’t comparable. Period products are considered medical devices and are neither recyclable nor included in landfill statistics. But they still end up in landfills where the plastics in pads (up to 90%) and applicators will take about 500 years to break down. Additionally, pads can contain non biodegradable superabsorbent polymers (SAPs) that never break down.
It’s important to realize that plastic applicators end up in the oceans because people flush them down toilets. Landfills and waterways in North America receive over 20 billion pads, tampons and applicators each year. Despite this startling number, people will talk about reusable water bottles, but not reusable pads, period underwear or menstrual cups. It’s clear that in order to protect the environment we need to start talking about sustainable menstrual hygiene.
Wash and Repeat: Use Reusable Period Products
In spite of the fact that disposable products are sometimes a necessity, reusable products are at the leading edge of menstrual product innovation. Companies like Rael make cloth pads, liners and underwear that can protect from leakage and be washed and reused again and again. Additionally, silicone menstrual cups can also be washed and reused, replacing up to 3250 pads. Even though reusable products have higher upfront cost, they save money because you do not need to replace supplies every month.
Healthline.com has reviewed reusable pads to give their top pads in seven categories.
Women’s Health Magazine lists the 10 best menstrual cups from beginners to experts.
Check out these products from Amazon. You can find Softly SWAPS! for products you search on Amazon by downloading Softly.
Before we dive into menstrual hygiene products, please note that this blog contains affiliate links. By using these links, you can support the improvement of Softly at no extra cost to you.
Let’s Review Menstrual Hygiene
Of course period products need to be sanitary and prevent leakage, but they should not have ingredients or by-products that harm our bodies or the environment. Unfortunately you may not always know what’s in the products you buy. The information is not on the package because, as noted above, pads and tampons are “medical devices.” Ingredients in menstrual products include chemicals found in plastics like phthalates, paraben and bisphenols and chemical by-products like dioxin (from the bleaching process) and pesticide residue. Add to this list the fragrances in many tampons and pads and you get a veritable chemical soup that the skin absorbs and passes directly to the bloodstream.
Look for Organic and Certified Products
Natracare is at the forefront of organic period products. Susie Hewson developed the first brand of organic and natural period products in 1989 after learning how much dioxin is created in the production of menstrual hygiene products. Natracare uses cotton certified by GOTS and their products are free from toxic ingredients and certified by MADE SAFE™.
Let’s Discuss Access and Menstrual Hygiene
How many women would you guess find themselves without a pad when their period starts? Eighty six percent, according to a study commissioned by Freethetampon.org. Freethetampon.org is working towards adding period products for free in public restrooms so that women don’t have to improvise a tampon or pad out of toilet paper (79% have done this). Stephanie Arnold co-founded The Period Project in 2015 after learning about women in the UK making their own period products because they couldn’t afford to buy them. The Period Project raises awareness of period poverty and provides menstrual hygiene products in their period packs which they distribute to populations in need.
According to Elizabeth Marlowe, Program Operations Director for the Period Project, getting free access to menstrual hygiene products in all public buildings including schools, libraries, jails and city halls is one of the solutions to lack of access. She says other ways to fix the problem are to remove the pink tax (the markup on goods and services marketed to women) and adding menstrual products to benefits like SNAP and WIC. Marlowe alerted us to the fact that CVS is working to eliminate period taxes and pays the tax on period products in 12 states. Furthermore, CVS has reduced the price of their own brand of period products.
In addition, access is not just about having pads, but making sure people have privacy and running water for cleanliness. Days for Girls provides this access by delivering reusable pads and health education for people around the world.
Lauren Nelson of Days for Girls says that the root causes of inadequate menstrual hygiene include a lack of reliable access to menstrual products, age-appropriate information to reduce stigma and shame, proper sanitation and positive social environments.
“Days for Girls works to address menstrual health for the advancement of gender equity internationally.” Lauren Nelson, Days for Girls Grant Manager
Spreading the Word Through Education
In the 2019 Oscar-winning Documentary on Netflix “Period. End of Sentence” interviewers asked boys if they had heard of a period. One boy answers “like a class period? And another answers “the kind you’d ring a bell for?” Days for Girls is working to provide information to change this perspective so men and boys are part of the conversation.
“While others in the menstrual health field focus exclusively on girls, Days for Girls brings tailored, culturally-specific education to boys and men as well as girls and women. By taking a holistic approach, we cultivate allies and environments of menstrual health support.” Lauren Nelson, Days for Girls
Men and boys are important allies. They’re brothers, husbands, classmates and friends and should be part of the conversation about normalizing periods.
In order to get information out, the Period Project partners with the Period Education Project to offer free classes with basic menstrual information, anatomy and biology. Every period pack they distribute includes an informational card to help track periods. According to Marlowe, “Health education helps dispel urban myths that are out there.”
Be a Part of the Solution
You can help provide period product access to people across the globe. Donate directly to organizations like daysforgirls.org and periodproject.org. Buy from their Amazon wishlists to get products directly to women and girls who need them:
It’s also important to change policies surrounding menstrual hygiene so that all women can afford to buy menstrual products which are as important for health and hygiene as soap and water. In order to change policies, Marlowe encourages people to vote and contact their local representatives to remove any period taxes in their area.
Let’s change the conversation about periods. Instead of signs telling us not to flush feminine products down the toilet, let’s have safer products and start talking about why it’s important to keep plastic out of the oceans and our bodies, Let’s get supplies where they’re needed–in public restrooms of schools and workplaces and in every woman’s home.
Let’s normalize periods. Period.
Related Articles from Softly
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- My fight for plastic-free period products, and why it matters | World Economic Forum
- How Tampons and Pads Became Unsustainable | National Geographic
- Give your clothes a second act | Medium.com
- What’s in your wine class? | Medium.com
- Wrapping Without Waste | Medium.com
- Period Products: What’s in Them?
- Making women’s sanitary products safer and cheaper
- Female Disruptors: Susie Hewson of Natracare On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry | by Candice Georgiadis | Authority Magazine | Medium
- 5 ways the world is changing how it sees menstruation | UNFPA
- CVS cuts cost of menstrual products in 12 states with “tampon tax” – CBS News