HOW CAN WE CREATE SAFE, HEALTHY MENSTRUATION FOR ALL?

THREE PERSPECTIVES 

The period educator. The health expert. The innovator.

by Louise Turner, Volunteer Writer & Interviewer

[Photo by Kristian Strand on Unsplash]

A global problem with unique solutions.

The Gordian Knot in the 4th century BC represented the most complex, intractable problem to ever exist. It was stated whoever could loosen the knot would be crowned king. Untangling the problem of securing safe healthy menstruation remains a worldwide challenge. The prize, no less than equality. We currently have up to 500 million women, girls and menstruators across the globe in period poverty, menstrual taboos stubbornly persistent, plastics, bleaches and dioxins end up in our period products, and plastic pollution in our waterways.

Finding a way to provide safe, healthy – and environmentally sustainable – menstruation for all poses a modern day Gordian Knot. And save a magical wand (or medieval sword) we simply have many incredible people, charities and organisations working in unison to untangle this global problem. Like pieces of a puzzle slotting into place, we can together, in time, ensure all menstruators are safe and healthy.

For Environmenstrual Week 2020, Wen spoke to three incredible individuals in the field to hear their take on their work, what inspires them and how we can achieve our goal. Each with a unique perspective: Chella Quint, Period Educator, has a creative recipe for solving period poverty. Helen Lynn, Health Expert, shares a history of Wen’s environmenstrual campaign as it’s former campaign manager! And, Tara Chandra, Innovator in the period product market, co-creator of ‘cheeky’ organic tampon brand FLO shares what makes FLO so special. 

The period educator.

Chella Quint is the founder of Period Positive, menstrual educator and former head of PSHE in Sheffield who coined the term ‘period positive’ in 2006. A design researcher, writer, artist and activist as well, she works with a variety of different organisations to find long-term solutions to period poverty and change the way we talk about menstruation. 

What do you do? 

I started the concept of period positivity because as a teen I felt deeply unsafe talking about menstruation; from fears picked up seeing products warning of leaks, adults whispering, a school visitor dispensing samples advising we hide them.  That secrecy discouraged me from finding what a healthy period felt and looked like or, what confident, comfortable period talk sounded like.

It took years of work to improve my menstrual literacy so I could help others. I wrote comedy. I ditched words that made me feel dirty like ‘sanitary’ and ‘hygiene’. I started saying ‘menstrual’ when discussing products or my health. Why shouldn’t all of us? If the word menstruation is not for everyone, every day, who is it for?

What inspires you? 

We’re at a turning point in England – period poverty is worse but schools aren’t taking up the government’s free products. Our cultural attitudes haven’t caught up

with our excellent intentions. We’ve internalised some bloody baggage, and we bring this to our activism, policy and leadership, whatever our age or gender. We must keep challenging what’s ingrained, continually re-examining where we are and how we got here. 

How can we achieve safe, healthy menstruation for all?

I have three offers. The first is a professional framework: the Period  Positive Pledge – a plan for supporting this growing field of enterprise, activism and policy and supporting charter mark that are focused on inclusion, sustainability, education and community – one which asks us to reflect and improve constantly.

The second is a recipe: 

Period poverty procurement needs to be proportional – like making a crumble. If it isn’t we will be stuck in this awkward moment. We need to address the poverty of knowledge and confidence too.

Period poverty crumble proportions

 

½  education and training for staff and pupils 

¼ disposable products 

¼ reusable products

100% plastic free

 

Evaluate regularly and change the recipe to your pupils’ taste. 

Aim for more sustainable solutions every year. 

[Photo by Olenka Kotyk on Unsplash]

The third is some warm and hopeful reading from Professor Chris Bobel:

The Managed Body: Developing Girls and Menstrual Health in the Global South, which makes the case for robust data, trained and trusted educators and a focus beyond product provision and on to menstrual literacy. These resources show us how to see past urgency and crisis, prepare for a sustained and sustainable movement, and make lasting change for the future.

The health expert.

Helen Lynn is a health and environment advisor to Wen, and researcher. Helen was Wen’s Health Coordinator, and founded the Alliance for Cancer Prevention and No More Breast Cancer Campaign.

What do you do? 

My work revolves around research into the health aspects of menstruation especially in relation to potentially harmful chemicals and residues found in menstrual products -translating it into non-scientific language to update briefings and inform campaigns about the issues.

The campaign at Wen made me rethink how I reacted to my own period. Thinking positively and talking about my experience each month I think made it less painful. I now treasure the time of my life I spent bleeding every month, looking back now from menopause. Another taboo issue!

My introduction to my monthly bleed was through a book called ‘The Curse’ given to us by nuns. Growing up in catholic Ireland word’s like vagina, periods or menstruation were rarely mentioned. I thought I was dying the first time I woke up to bloody sheets! Luckily, I was staying with my sister who immediately sat me down, bought sanitary pads (in those days the size of large nappies!). Then she bought me chocolate and ice cream. My own little period party.

The campaign was a long, slow burn in terms of seeing progress. Surprisingly, it was very difficult to fund the menstruation campaign in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Menstrual taboos were strong, having been perpetuated and compounded by the menstrual product industry for decades. Few considered the associated health, waste and plastic issue. Most women used products without thinking, assuming if it’s on sale, it’s safe to use.

I coordinated the campaign and helped keep the issue alive over the years along with campaigners like Manda Helal, Jane Treglown and Anna Willoughby. We ran menstrual story times and workshops at various festivals like Glastonbury and the Big Green Gathering. Manda created the reusable menstrual washing line to showcase the variety of reusable alternatives on offer.

The Wen National Lottery funded project ‘Women Taking Action for a Healthier Planet’ developed workshops and lobbied manufactures and retailers. Highlights included taking part in a very popular Women’s Hour program where the presenter inserted a menstrual cup live on air, and a fantastic menstrual conference in the University of Liverpool which gave me hope things were changing.

What inspires you? 

My biggest inspiration is the women who work at Wen who managed to secure funding and reinvigorate the Environmenstrual campaign, developing Environmenstrual Week and continuing to break down the taboos and lobby for safer, less wasteful products. 

The upsurge in interest from young women and all those who menstruate has been very heartwarming. Truly breaking down the taboos and bringing menstruation into the open where it belongs. Campaigns from women like Ella Daish and those addressing period poverty are truly ground-breaking.

How can we achieve safe, healthy menstruation for all? 

My hope for the future is that menstruation will be seen as an empowering time of the month and everyone who needs them will have access to safe, reusable products. Just as important, is that period product producers become more transparent about what is in their products, and work to remove all traces of potentially harmful chemicals and plastic.

The innovator.

Tara Chandra, is Co-founder of FLO, a cheeky, conscious brand selling sustainable period products with a social conscience. Formerly a recording music artist, Tara developed FLO during her Executive Global Master’s in Management programme at London School of Economics where she was named a C200 Scholar.

What does FLO do? 

At FLO, our mission is healthier, eco-friendlier, ‘adorabler’ personal care that gives back. We use plant-based and organic ingredients, and 5% of our profits go to girls and women in need through charities like Orchid Project and Bloody Good Period.

What inspires you?

The amazing, messy, hormonal wonder that is the human body inspires us! The start of our journey was asking questions like ‘Why doesn’t this exist? [organic period products] Why can’t I find it easily? Why doesn’t it look better? We wanted to create products that our friends, our family and we ourselves would want to use.  

Now that we’ve grown, it’s engagement with our customers that inspires us. This is important, because no matter how big or diverse your social circle is, it’s not the same as having real feedback on whether or not you’re creating value! Conversations are normalising talking about the messy, sometimes wonderful, sometimes difficult experiences with our bodies, and finding the cheeky humour in how we are surviving it together as a community of people with vaginas.

[Photo by Billie on Unsplash]

How can we achieve safe, healthy menstruation for all? 

Making sure that those in need have access to period products is a big part of this! Provision in schools was a huge first step, and having workplaces provide free period products in their toilets will also make a big difference. 

A second step is increasing education and availability around plant-based and reusable period products! Natural and reusable period products won’t work for everyone – it’s important to acknowledge. They do, however, work for a good part of the menstruating population, and making the switch adds up to a healthier, eco-friendlier difference for our bodies and the planet. 

It’s brilliant we can find natural options online or in big supermarkets or chemists. But when we can do an emergency run to the off-licence, petrol station or local shop and not be limited to a synthetic, largely plastic, corporate period product, but instead find an organic pad or a menstrual cup, we’ll be on our way to the major change we need.

For more research based information on safe, healthy menstruation, see Wen’s briefing ‘Seeing Red: menstruation and the environment’

Thank you again to our fantastic contributors, Chella Quint, Helen Lynn and Tara Chandra of FLO! 

 

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