Reclaiming the Menstruation Conversation: Is Your Period Ethical?
The average woman will use 9,600 tampons or pads over forty years of menstruation. According to Organic Cup, tampons, pads and panty liners along with their packaging generate over 200,000 tonnes of waste per year, with the average woman throwing away 125-150kg of tampons, pads and applicators in their lifetime. As we continue to live in a climate change crisis where our waste plays a huge role in the destruction of our earth’s natural resources, we need to ask ourselves: are we being ethical with our periods?
In the first week of May, Bloody Good Period and podcaster Sarah Powell brought together a group of women to discuss just that. How can we be more ethical with our periods? The event welcomed experts in the field to share their insight on how your period can be both luxurious and ethical. From the world’s first reusable tampon applicator, to organic tampons, menstrual cups and period pants, we were thrown into a world where periods were no longer a taboo. The event opened the door to more insightful discussions on our lived experiences with periods. We were led through a journey of understanding why there’s such a stigma to speak about something that happens to 50% of the world’s population, and how there has been a change in the conversations as more women are openly sharing their experiences with menstruation. Before taking a look at some of the products that can help your period be more ethical, here are some top takeaways from the event.
1. The West doesn’t always know best: time to forego the disposable pads
Disposable pads as we know them today were actually developed from a Benjamin Franklin invention created to help stop wounded soldiers from bleeding. While it took some time for them to take off, bleeding into a synthetic product wrapped in plastic soon became the norm, and thus began a practice that brought convenience wrapped in environmental wastefulness. Meanwhile, women of the global south continued to use reusable solutions with minimal negative impact on the environment. Taking inspiration from this, the reusable pad and reusable period pants were developed, creating a more sustainable solution to help women go about their lives as normal with their periods.
2. We need to reclaim the menstruation conversation
The red devil. Aunt Flo. Riding the red wave. Shark Week. My monthly friend is visiting. The curse has arrived.
These are just some of the euphemisms that women use to say ‘Hi, I’m currently menstruating’. In fact, in 2016 Clue conducted a survey with over 90,000 people in 190 countries which discovered over 5,000 euphemisms for the word period. Periods have become so much of a taboo that we look for any way to say we’re bleeding without using the word itself. Many euphemisms come charged with negative connotations of violence or disgrace. Even period product adverts avoid being blatant about what the products are for. We see women dancing in valleys, playing sports or jumping around in pink, yet never see the products in the context of what they’re being used for. It’s time to reclaim the menstruation conversation and actually celebrate our bodies for what they do. A woman shouldn’t be shamed for talking about her period, nor should a little girl be scared about ‘the curse’ that’s set to ruin her life for the rest of eternity. I’m not saying that periods are fun; it’s a miserable experience for many women who suffer with horrendous side effects. However, we need to be able to openly talk about menstruation without feeling a need to hide behind euphemisms.
3. It’s all about education
For most school girls in the UKl, the first class about periods comes in year 5. It’s a hyped up moment. The girls and boys are separated and sent into different rooms. Then out comes some snazzy diagrams showing the womb and internal processes of a period. Then the teachers chat about our different options to ‘manage’ our periods: a pad or a tampon (with emphasis on the pad). Girls aren’t given the opportunity to learn about the range of more ethical products available to them, meanwhile the boys don’t learn how these products work. Our education system sets the standards for future conversations about periods. By separating girls and boys, they immediately imply that talking about periods publicly is a taboo, and should only happen in small intimate circles of girls. It makes periods more inaccessible to boys too; maybe if they were part of the conversation from day one, then periods wouldn’t be off limits as adults.
So, what are some of the alternative products you can use to make your periods more ethical?
The Cup Effect raises awareness about menstrual cups and sells them around the world. The income generated from sales supports their work to run information sessions and distribute cups to people who can’t afford them in the UK and other less well-off parts of the world.
Key facts about menstrual cups:
A menstrual cup is a small bell-shaped product that is a convenient alternative to tampons or sanitary pads. They are inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual fluid.
Menstrual cups are reusable and last for up to 10 years and produce no solid waste.
Menstrual cups have a larger capacity than tampons and pads and can hold up to three times more menstrual fluid - they can be worn for up to 12 hours.
Ruby Raut CEO of WUKA, was born in Nepal, and speaks about how she would use her mum’s old sarees as reusable menstrual pads. Taking inspiration from the fact that she grew up using a reusable solution to period products, she founded WUKA: an ultra-hygienic and luxuriously comfortable period pant.
Key Facts about Period Pants:
WUKA period wear can hold 4 tampons worth of blood, lasting around 8 hours on any menstruating days
The inner layer of the fabric has antibacterial properties, helping to prevent odour and bacterial growth.
The pants range in sizes from size 4 through to size 20
Founded by Celia and Alec, two friends committed to reducing the environmental impact of the products we use everyday, DAME created the world’s first reusable tampon applicator. Alongside the applicator, they also launched DAME organic cotton tampons, which are free from toxins and synthetic materials. DAME serves as a sustainable option for the millions of people who use tampons and applicators every day.
Key Facts about Reusable Applicator
The reusable tampon applicator fits any brand of tampon, lite to super plus
It saves up to 12,000 disposable applicators
The product has antibacterial sanipolymers that act as natural sterilisers, helping the applicator stay clean - you simply have to rinse, dry and pop it in your complimentary cotton travel wallet!
OHNE was founded by two best friends, Nikki and Leah, who had a passion for women’s health and an anger at the inequality and irony that sees women in the UK being sold unlabelled, pesticide sprayed products, while women in many parts of the world can’t access any at all. OHNE is an organic tampon subscription service that brings tailored tampon orders right to your door. They also support The School Club Zambia, a social enterprise that puts girls’ voices at the centre of change and supports them in revolutionising period-management through improving hygiene, making reusable pads and breaking taboos through innovative menstrual health education.
Key Facts about OHNE Tampons:
Unlike your average tampon brand, OHNE tampons don’t contain any sunthetic fibres, chemical additives, fragrance, dyes, chlorine bleach, residues of pesticides or herbicides.
OHNE has cardboard applicator tampons which are 100% biodegradable (including the wrapper)
The organic tampons last for 4-8 hours, depending on your flow.
Article by VERVE Operative & Blogger Chanju Mwanza