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How Has The Period Industry Changed Over The Last 100 Years?

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

In recent years, the activity on periods has always made the global headlines, targeting taboos, digging at public policy, and promoting companies to create new products (including women, transgender, non-binary people).

However, there is a growing concern about the corporate influence on the period resources. Menstruation in the last 100 years has become one of the most profitable markets producing various menstrual products.

The industry is aware that any menstruating gender cannot avoid menstrual hygiene products at any cost. Still, there is a luxury tax that has to be paid on the purchase of monthly hygiene products.

Some countries such as India, the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK have taken a step to shift the focus on the right of equal access to menstrual products and education along with voicing out on removing the “tampon tax” is becoming the part of the talk.

A painting of women roaming in the park

History Of Menstrual Products

Before the prime time of 1985, the word “period” was never mentioned on television in western countries. Today, period industry is a multi-million dollar industry.

Throughout the 1800s, predictability, homemade menstrual clothes of flannel, or woven fabric were a part of life. While companies marketed products door to door, the first commercial products became mainstream for audiences in the 1890s. At the same time, silk and elastic belt to which a pad is attached were introduced.

In 1921, Kotex became the first brand to successfully set their foot in the market by introducing the first cellulose sanitary pads. The invention was beneficial for the women contributing to World War I.

Creative and modified products continued to evolve in all eras with the first beltless pads introduced in 1972. They inspired variations for heavy flow, and light flow with a shift to new maxi pads and pads with wings in the 1980s. Tampons, too, continued to increase in popularity at the same time.

Throughout history, it has been interpreted that advancements in menstrual products and technology have a significant impact on health and personal and professional freedom of all menstruating gender.

Menstrual Industry, Capitalism And The Other Side

The current trend in the industry is “menstrual capitalism“. The marketing and selling of menstrual hygiene products seem to be using tactics by providing a feminist message to create support for commercial enterprises seeking profit from women’s bodies.

Evolution in new menstrual products such as tampons, pads, cups, period pants, vitamins, hormones, food, and apps to track the cycle is part of alluring the customers. Entrepreneurs around the globe are utilizing the opportunity and shaking the market.

With the increase in getting hands-on physiology of the body, podcasts, and depiction of menstruation, the products presented to target issues other than the collecting blood; these include following different skincare routines according to your menstrual cycle and seed cycling claiming to balance the hormones.

Interestingly, sanitary napkins and tampons did not emerge as the ‘saviour’ as they are often depicted in various advertisements. There is also a standing question on the role of profit-making companies through sanitary pads and other products in the de-stigmatization of menstrual taboos and stigma.

For example, the advertisements of all sanitary products neither display red blood nor talk about menstrual health. Instead, it only focuses on preventing leakage and making women free and confident. Corporations portray menstrual products as the only alternative for leakage-free periods with labelling all other traditional methods as unhealthy. With establishing menstrual blood as dirty, the manufacturers have commodified menstruation in India.

sanitary pads in the market

I think not only in India, but across the world, women’s menstrual cycles are dominated by the capitalist patriarchal structures that govern a country’s economy. The logic of placing capitalism above people is creating a never-ending demand for new markets.

This hunger for profit makes the territory of the body a commodity designed to be bought and thrown away every month alongside a negative view of the menstrual cycle. Patriarchy demands that the reality of periods has to be hidden and the humiliation around periods for disposable menstrual product companies to continue to make a profit.

In many parts of the countries, some corporations have been donating products to women in developing areas for many years, often in collaboration with policymakers. This is being done to combat the assumption of “backward thinking” of people, especially in rural areas where cloth pads and natural materials are used rather than disposable sanitary pads. Paradoxically, people in urban areas are in favour of shifting to the reusable sanitary products.

Consumers are demanding answers to how to prevent burdening the environment while being sustainable and safe with their menstrual products. It remains a pressing issue. On the one hand, industrial and policymakers’ interest lies in menstruation being recognized as necessary. The other side of the recognition can only come within the framework of “menstrual capitalism” and, thus, seems to benefit those who mostly sell menstrual products.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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