Menstrual Hygiene Day exists to challenge the stigma surrounding something as normal and natural as a period, but that prohibits many women and girls from educational opportunities, health and equal social status.
Sanitary products highlight the global intersectional nature of gender and the environment. Affordable and sustainable menstruation products are vital for both gender equality and climate action, the nature of which are both inextricably linked.
In some rural communities, women’s menstruation is seen as a causal factor in environmental degradation. Sanitary waste can block water systems and become a health hazard, resulting in the further stigmatisation of a woman’s period and marginalisation of women who are menstruating. Rather than blaming poor waste management and the use of non-biodegradable materials such as plastic in sanitary products, women are suffering from the consequences of having their period.
This attitude is changing, with communities such as Bhindh in India beginning to provide reusable sanitary products to women to tackle the detrimental impact of sanitary waste on the local environment. Initiatives such as Sanitree that provide reusable sanitary pads see this as a source of empowerment for women as these alternatives are more affordable, their production provides employment for vulnerable women and their usage helps to reduce stigma.
However, this movement should not be prohibited to those countries deemed less ‘developed’. In the UK, sanitary waste is rarely recycled and reusable alternatives, although on the rise, are not the norm. The difference being that the UK has an infrastructure that allows women to dispose of their sanitary products efficiently and quietly. The fact that our sanitary waste is virtually invisible has allowed us to believe for a long time that period stigma doesn’t exist in the UK.
Reports such as one conducted by Plan International UK shows that 1 in 5 young girls in the UK are bullied about their periods and that the high costs of sanitary products can result in girls missing school. Period poverty and its impact on access to education is a consequence of period stigma felt worldwide. In response, the government earlier this year announced £250,000 to go towards new ideas to tackle the problem in the UK and announced that free sanitary products will be distributed in schools.
This is a step in the right direction, yet a focus on cost has resulted in the UK making a minimal effort to produce sanitary products that are more sustainable. Current sanitary waste having a hugely detrimental impact on the marine environment and contributes to the UK’s role in driving climate change. Of course, the conversation must be focused on corporations and the production companies of sanitary products, rather than putting the onus on women as ‘purchasers’ of sanitary products which will serve to further ostracise women for having a period. We must acknowledge the intersectional nature of both gender equality and climate action as underpinned by the same system, the transformation of which is necessary to build a world that works for everyone.
By Edie Marriner, CW18 Trainee at Network Homes.