Menstruating, more commonly known as having a period is never a nice experience – despite what the Always ads make you believe. How can it be when you’re bloated, experiencing cramps, headaches, and of course bleeding for up to 7 days. The only thing you may be able to do is gain a sense of comfort, knowing that you are using the right sanitary products, relieved of the pain through pain killers or home remedies as well as clarification that you’re not pregnant.
Although having a period can be uncomfortable, it is managed by many women across the world. But what would happen if you as a woman, didn’t have the right sanitary products to get you through your cycle? No pads, no panty-liners, no tampons, no menstrual cups. Unfortunately, this is a reality for thousands of women across the globe.
In most African communities, menstruating girls are restricted from doing daily tasks, such as cooking, washing dishes or participating in games with other young people. This in turn fosters stigma as the restrictions create the perception that menstruation is shameful and that menstrual blood is harmful. And yet menstrual blood is free of toxins and any harmful bacteria.
All of the above is exactly what Sarah Hewett, founder of Monthlies, the social enterprise that aims to empower young women about their periods, is trying to change. We caught up with Sarah to discuss her, motivations behind Monthlies, the environmental impact of sanitary products and how we can make conversation about periods less embarrassing.
I was buying pads one month, and started thinking about the impact on the environment. I know there are products like menstrual cups which are reusable so really environmentally positive, but it seemed like there wasn’t any in-between, like disposable tampons and pads but with fewer chemicals and plastics and that’s what I wanted.
From there, it got me thinking about the inequality of periods. Firstly that paying for these products is a cost non-menstruators don’t have to face, as well as the fact these products are still subject to VAT (ridiculous!). It also got me annoyed that big companies make a profit from these products when I have little choice to buy them. Then I began thinking that periods could effect women’s education and careers if you can’t perform at your best a couple of days out of the month, especially if you don’t have the same access to the right products as I do.
So essentially I’d identified loads of negative things about periods and the products I was using and I’ve set up Monthlies to try and address these. I like to think I’m breaking negative cycles and building positive – menstrual – cycles.
Monthlies sells environmentally friendly period products, tailored to you and convenient for busy people (you can choose your own package and they are delivered through your letterbox to match your cycle). The plan is also to build a brand which challenges menstrual taboos and the idea of periods as shameful and donates at least 20% of profits to causes supporting women and girls instead of making rich men richer!
Monthlies use products from Natracare who use only organic cotton (free from pesticide) and any plastic in the pads is derived from plants so didn’t take oil to be produced. They decompose much more quickly and from production to disposal, they cause much less impact on the environment. As far as I know, there’s no other environmentally friendly subscription package service out there!
I’ve worked with a couple of really interesting social enterprises before and I really like the social enterprise model as a way of doing good but in a financially sustainable way. I also really care about challenging sexism and understanding why some types of inequality continue to exist. On top of that, I’m into sustainable products – the less impact anything has on the environment, the better – and that’s how I make a lot of decisions about what I buy.
Also, there are a number of concerns for both the environment and the health of menstruators from the major brands of period products. In most pads, you’ll find lots of plastic, bleach, perfumes and synthetic materials. A lot of oil is used to produce these products, so some emissions have already happened but after use if it goes to landfill, it won’t biodegrade for centuries and chemicals can continue to leach out, ruining the soil and ecosystem around it.
There’s also an issue for the cotton being used, it’s often grown with a lot of pesticides which can be harmful to the health of those picking it – often women – and when it’s in your knickers, it can cause irritation and health problems. The same is true for tampons, if they use synthetic materials the chances of Toxic Shock Syndrome, TSS, (where bacteria breed in the tampon material and can cause fever and severe reactions) are increased. The other best thing you can do to make your period better for the environment is to try reusable products like menstrual cups (ruby cup is really good and have a buy one, give one scheme) or fabric pads which can be washed and reused.
Making periods the topic of conversation
I think it’s got so much to do with the language we use! I’ve been forcing myself to say the word “period” more in public to normalise it. So many girls think they shouldn’t talk about periods or their reproductive organs and part of that is because we don’t have easy words for it!
I think the more people can make themselves talk in a straightforward way about it all – and say things like “I have period pains” to their boss or their friends, then it will give others confidence to do the same. Equally, things like not hiding your tampons when you go to the loo, it feels scary at first to just hold it for people to see, but it’s a small, but empowering act, which shows others this isn’t something to be ashamed of!
I want women to be better informed about their choices and to have safe and healthy periods. I want to stop the prejudice about it all!
Monthlies is initially aimed at individual women wanting a product which fits in with their lifestyle but I’m also looking at doing Monthlies boxes for offices and schools and after that doing starter packs for teens with loads of positive messages and helpful explanations of how everything works. Girls are getting their periods younger than ever before so it’s important they can ask the right questions without feeling embarrassed.
Monthlies is still really new for now, I just want more people to learn about what I’m doing but in the long run, I want people to look at the big brands and choose Monthlies instead because the products are better and they agree with what we stand for! Building positive cycles for women the world over!
Log on to Monthlies now and order your first pack, entering the discount code Period10 at the checkout will get 10% off your first purchase. Be sure to sign up the Monthlies Newsletter for regular updates.