We urgently need a Menstrual Health, Dignity, and Sustainability Act in the UK
We urgently need a Menstrual Health, Dignity, and Sustainability Act in the UK. The Act should start from the premise that menstruation is a human rights and public health issue. It needs to address the health and waste impacts, equity and dignity, period equity, education and regulation, and challenge existing stigma and taboos.
Read on to find out why this is needed, and ways you can help to make the act a reality:
MENSTRUATION, A HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUE
Menstruation is a human rights as well as a public health issue – impacting women, girls and people who menstruate in many different ways.
There are so many facets to menstruation – health, period taboo and shame, period equity, waste and pollution and period education, to name a few. It’s hard to address one aspect without addressing the others. Menstrual stigma and taboos are a major barrier, not only in our ability to tackle issues like the lack of education but also to discuss period management.
CALLING FOR A MENSTRUAL ACT
So this is why we need an act which encompasses all aspects of menstruation. It’s kind of beyond belief that there is no such Act already in the UK. A Menstrual Act must consider the health and waste impacts of menstruation, equity and dignity, period poverty, education and regulation while also challenging existing stigma and taboos.
A NEED FOR REGULATION
There has been a huge upsurge in new reusable products coming on the market such as period pants and menstrual discs. While innovation is great, it also highlights the urgent need for regulation to ensure the safety and sustainability of new and existing products.
Currently period products are regulated under the same legislation (the General Products Safety Regulations) that covers other consumer items like cutlery, candles and other household items that seem to have a gender dimension, but they are not specifically mentioned in it. Although some of the other items covered like DIY tools have come under other safety regs as well.
Reusables are a major part of the solution to period equity with the added benefits of waste and plastic minimisation and their associated links with climate change. And they are vastly more affordable in the long run than traditional single use disposables saving up to £5000 in a lifetime.
LACK OF RESEARCH
Underpinning a lot of the problems is a complete lack of interest in researching menstruation. This means we are still grappling with the same barriers knowing so little about the intricacies of periods and period management or even vulvas. For example, between 1941 and 1950 only one study was published about menstrual blood, with only 400 over the past several decades. This compares with around 10,000 studies on erectile dysfunction during the same timeframe.
WOMEN’S HEALTH STRATEGY FOR ENGLAND
It is indicative of government policy that even when the first Women’s Health Strategy for England was published earlier this year, although it does address menstruation, it fails to mention period products.
A follow on survey on women’s reproductive health is collecting views until the 19th of Oct 2023. While this landmark survey is the first of its kind to collect views on painful and heavy periods, and menstruation and occupation, there are no questions on types of period products used or the impacts from tampons and menstrual pads found to contain hazardous chemicals with women and those who menstruate potentially exposed to these chemicals for their full 40 years of menstruation.
Wen, along with other UK-based NGOs with expertise in the fields of environment, occupation, wildlife and public and women’s health, sent a letter to the Women’s Health Ambassador, Professor Dame Lesley Regan highlighting this and other gaps in the strategy.
LACK OF REGULATION
Currently, there is no adequate regulation for period products so manufacturers do not have to disclose the contents or additives used in their products. Wen has highlighted the need for regulation and transparency repeatedly in the past so that consumers can make an informed choice when it comes to the products we use on a monthly basis, and in one of the most absorbent parts of the human body.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has deemed there is no need for this regulation because there is no clear case (or interest) to justify looking at regulating period products. Basically, they are not a priority. This needs to change. We need to make our voices heard about this issue.
OTHER COUNTRIES LEADING THE WAY
Meanwhile, other countries have prioritised the health of women and those who menstruate with innovative approaches and strategies around reproductive and menstrual health, for example, Catalonia, New York State, Wales, Scotland, Kenya and Europe.
SO WHAT NOW?
For Environmenstrual Week 2023 we will be calling for individuals, NGOs, and organisations to reach out to MPs, by social media, letter or in person to tell them why we urgently need this act. And to remind them period dignity is a right, not a privilege.
Sign the Act – we are calling for organisations to sign up to our call for a MHDS act – for more info contact email@example.com
Write to your MP
Write to your MP to raise awareness of the need for such an Act. Use our template letters below, but try to personalise with your concerns as this will be more impactful. Select the letter based on where you live and download it. You will then be able to amend and personalise the letter.
Email your MP with WriteToThem – this clever website will find your MP and allow you to email them directly. You can copy the text from the letter (as above) and paste it into the email. You can also find most elected representatives on social media.
Post your letter – Find your local MP mailing address and details
Watch our webinar: Why do we need a Menstrual Health, Dignity and Sustainability Act? Guest speakers: – Dr. Njoki Ngumi is a healthcare expert, filmmaker, writer, producer and strategist – Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal, New York State – Helen Lynn, Wen Health Advisor and Environmenstrual Campaign Manager.
HELEN LYNN, ENVIRONMENSTRUAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER & HEALTH ADVISER