Periods all over the world

by Sarah Hewett | Jan 31, 2016

Periods all over the world

The title of this post makes me want to sing “Periods all over the world, JOIN HANDS” but alas, we’re looking at more serious things than Love Train today. Although, if that’s what you’re looking for, I’ve been working on the optimum period playlist, think Leona Lewis with Bleeding Love, Taylor Swift with Red, it’s going to be great!

If you’re reading about Monthlies, you probably already know a thing or two about periods and the inequalities which exist around them. It’s unfair enough that our biology makes us bleed once a month but to add to that, we face tax on the products, stigma against talking about periods and to make it even worse, many menstruators globally have no access to affordable, safe, healthy period products. But there are projects and movements happening globally which are dismantling these inequalities.


Internationally, access to period products is heavily linked to affordability and wealth of the population. Taxation plays a part in this, pushing retail prices up, but so does the stigma, which means there’s little education or availability of the more affordable, reusable options.

There have been grassroots improvements in access, such as the women’s cooperatives in rural India who are producing and selling their own sanitary pads, using machines designed by Arunachalam Muruganantham after he discovered his new wife was using unhygienic rags. The same technology has even been imported to refugee camps in Jordan where it’s able to provide both period protection and low-cost protection for incontinence in children and the elderly.

Arunachalam Muruganantham

However it’s not always a question of cost of the products. Others face inadequate toilet facilities in schools, meaning there’s nowhere to change or dispose of menstrual pads when on your period. In Uganda, a study which trialed more affordable papyrus pads, with facilities to dispose of them in the school incinerator, failed due to a locally held belief that to burn menstrual blood could lead to infertility. The study did have success with re-usable cloth pads. There are other, unexpected cultural barriers to access. In wealthy Saudi Arabia, the use of tampons is very rare and they’re difficult to find in the shops. There are various theories on why this is but most assume that the strict Islamic culture, known for sexual conservatism, views tampons as too intimate, even too sexual (although that’s the last thing most of us are thinking about when shoving some cotton up our vagina!)


Stigma and access are intertwined. The same study in Uganda which trialed papyrus pads found that girls saw menstrual pads as the most difficult thing to live without but the first they would give up, from a list including soap, breakfast and school supplies. This is all linked to the stigma surrounding periods and the expectation that they’re not to be spoken about or noticed wherever possible (sound familiar?!)

In November 2015 a well known temple in Kerala, India, banned women aged 10 to 50 in order to keep out anyone who could be menstruating. They even said they would lift the ban when a machine had been invented which could accurately tell whether a woman was on her period. A community of Indian women responded with #HappyToBleedswamping twitter and breaking down taboos in speaking openly about their periods.


There’s been loads in the press in the last few months about the “tampon tax” but in reality, this applies to all period products, even those like the mooncup which is super sustainable. Last week, the Stop Taxing our Periods Campaign took a look at how UK compares to levels of tampon tax globally (the answer: move to Canada).

One major break-through for this campaign came when Obama was quizzed about the tax in most US states, where he responded saying it’s probably because men were making the laws when the tax was introduced but that it makes no sense. He’s right on both counts and we hope this statement will push more governments to remove the tax but it’s still sad that the comments of one man (sure, one incredibly powerful man) can make change happen so much faster than the voices of hundreds of thousands of dissatisfied women.
You might have heard about George Osborne’s pledge in the Autumn Statement to give the £15 million (yes, that much) which is raised by the tax on period products, to charities which support women, such as refuges for victims of domestic violence. Our opinion on this is simple: those services are vital and should have adequate government support. The problem of domestic violence is a societal one (domestic violence affects men, women and children and the problem is in the actions of the perpetrators) and to fund it by a tax harvested almost entirely from women makes a dangerous assumption that it’s a problem for women to solve, not for society as a whole. The tax is sexist and should be removed. Vital services that support victims of violence should receive adequate funding regardless.

The further you look into the world of periods, the more things there are to be shocked and saddened by. But there are also more movements to challenge these problems and design new solutions, from the bottom up. Monthlies aim is for all menstruators to have safe, healthy periods free from prejudice. We won’t stop shouting about the issues surrounding menstruation until we get there.

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