If you were to calculate, women in total spend 10 years of their lifetime having their period. That’s a decade of non stop bleeding from our first period to our last. Since time immemorial we have used innovations left, right, and center to help us manage our hygiene and health during the time of the month – but not all have been catered “just right” for women.
Whether it were the nurses who discovered that cellulose bandages made better pads than cotton ones, Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner who patented the first sanitary belt, or Jessamijn Miedema who founded EcoFemme, women have been monumental in the history of period research, period product advancement and feminine hygiene management.
Not surprisingly, anytime throughout history if a menstrual hygiene product was advanced or bettered, a woman was behind that.
While I could chart out a timeline of the evolution of menstruation products in the North American and European context, I found little to no evidence or historical annals related to menstruation for women of colour, and more specifically, brown women. Understanding this is extremely important if we want to have an honest conversation about periods. The stigma, taboo, mythology and lack of scientific perspective and research has reduced periods to an esoteric phenomenon, and it would be no surprise to you that until 19th century, people had not discovered the correlation between ovulation and menstruation. It was assumed that women needed to bleed out their hysteria, emotions and irrationality!
In India, we’ve heard anecdotes about “kapda”, traditional menstruation management methods in India included upcycling sarees, towels or bed sheets into homemade rags that were washed discreetly and hidden from public eye, and therefore received no sterilisation from sun and in turn, resulted in a hoard of diseases. Women in the Northern India have been known to use ash and cloth, and in other parts of the country – hay, mud, rags and more. In Rajasthan, they used a sand filled rectangular pocket made of old cloth for better absorbency. The modern period products as we see them today hit the market only as recently as 1980s.
Knowing about the development of period products is crucial to understanding why sustainable menstrual facilities are the need of the hour.
Somehow the environmental crises and the increase in accessibility of period products have merged at a certain point.
While a clean and hygienic period is the right of every woman who bleeds on this planet, we need to understand what the next in line development of menstruation management has to be. In this case, period products, menstrual education, environmental degradation, and period poverty converge at a point and become a very feminist issue.
I understand that India is still growing. Only 57.6% of women in India, including urban and rural India, use sanitary towels. India suffers from what experts like to call “period poverty”. This is a horrifying number. But even with these 57.6% women having access to sanitary products, the waste totals to around 432 million discarded pads in our trash every year.
The solution is clear – the latest developments in period products have to be green, accessible, sustainable and available to all the women who bleed.
The biggest myth around sustainable menstrual products is that they’re expensive, hard to find and not dependable. Fortunately, not all of this is true. From Sakhi Biodegradable Pads that cost around Rs 8.75 a piece, to Sirona Cups, silicone menstrual cups that last 5 years and come for around Rs 285 – the options are a plenty.
Biodegradable pads are made of corn starch, banana fibre and cellulose, and eliminate the use of plastic which helps them decompose in 2 years. The compost made by these pads is very obviously high in iron which makes them a rich fertiliser. Silicone cups also, are completely biodegradable. Silicone is a natural product made of silica, and once decomposed, returns to its natural state – sand. Other options include Lavos period panties that can be worn without a pad and are leak proof, again, made of banana fibre, and cotton reusable pads from EcoFemme amongst others. It would be quite regressive to think that the newest wave of progress in menstrual hygiene is anything less than eco-friendly.
Conversations about periods are relevant now more than ever and our attitude towards menstruation are shaped by the residuals of the past even to this date. For us to change the perspectives around periods and environment, three things are necessary. One, that we make period products accessible to everyone. Two, that those period products be sustainable as much as possible. And three, for honest narratives and information to emerge in the mainstream, we need to talk about bleeding as much as possible, which in turn will give rise to healthier, more informed practices for both our earth and our bodies.
If you’re convinced to make the switch, here are some green alternatives I suggest –