By Olivia Brookshire and Oriana Silva.
Many individuals do not perceive certain humanity issues until they touch their lives directly. Oriana Silva, the President of The Sustainable Age – Student Journal, was only thirteen years old when she realized that being a young lady could be a barrier to achieving her goals. Because she grew up in Venezuela, Oriana lacked access to feminine products. This matter sometimes inhibited her from doing daily activities like going to school. She and her relatives had to visit many supermarkets and pharmacies hoping to find something to wear when menstruation arrived. Often, they had to pay three times or more of the regular price because of the limited access to sanitary menstruation products. Even though Venezuelan women are still struggling with this, the topic of access to female products is rarely discussed... The monthly period is seen there as something that ladies must hide and live with and not embrace as being natural.
Menstruation has always been associated with words and phrases which feed the stigma that is built in the core of our society. The basis of this stigma is established in many euphemisms that are used around the world like “time of the month,”, “Andres”, “female troubles,” “Aunt Flo,” “on the rag,” etc. Research directed by the International Women’s Health Coalition found that there are about 5,000 slang words used to refer to menstruation in 10 different languages. Think about any derogatory phrases that you may have used because everybody else has. Don’t you believe we need to be more educated about women’s reproduction cycle?
Because many ladies grow up surrounded by menstruation taboos, there often tends to be a lack of education about the menstruation cycle and female bodies because few people want to address it. If it is talked about, it often comes with a wave of embarrassment and shame for women who experience it. In addition, this leads to poor access to the proper hygiene products required during a period.
This concern is apparent in several underdeveloped countries around the world and often brings shame and humiliation to the menstruators in those communities. As an illustration, in Venezuelan culture, many women are forced to sleep in huts for the duration of their menstruation cycle. This situation decreases the quality of life and increases infectious diseases among them. In addition, in some rural areas of Ghana, menstruating women are forbidden from entering a house with a man and from cooking food. They are viewed as “unclean” during this time. Many young women do not have access to any type of sanitary pad or tampons which causes them to stay home to avoid the embarrassment at school. This monthly cycle of missing school makes it hard for young women to be successful in school and leads to high dropout rates.
Unlike Oriana’s experience in a developing country, The Sustainable Age’s Secretary, Olivia’s took place in the United States, a developed country. In this context, there is a distinct difference between the experience of young women in Venezuela and young women in the United States in regards to menstruation. For example, in the United States, menstrual products are found more easily and at a more affordable cost. Because of this, Olivia rarely had a hard time finding menstrual products during her period.
As being an environmentally conscious consumer increases in popularity, many people are interested in how they can reduce the material waste that ends up in landfills and our oceans. One of the best ways to do this is by the expression of buying power. Purchasing products that are waste-conscious from the beginning to the end is where the focus should be.
Often, when this conversation is brought up, our minds go straight to single-use plastic bottles or plastic straws, but let’s challenge ourselves to think outside the box and consider other problems, like single-use menstruation products. Menstrual product waste isn’t something many of us think about. We use them and toss them. Out of sight, out of mind. But where do these items go? The residual environmental effects of discarded periods products have been calculated and, in the US alone, it has been estimated that 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are discarded each year. Additionally, when a tampon makes it to the landfill it will remain there for 500-800 years before it fully decomposes. Some microplastics that never fully decompose but continue to exist in landfills can seep into the soil and groundwater. Contaminating water can impose risks to reproductive health for animals and humans due to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) found in this water can affect the endocrine system and subsequently impair development and fertility.
Not only do pads and tampons contribute to the growing number of single-use items found in our landfills and oceans, but these products also have serious implications for the health of sewage systems in developed and underdeveloped countries. It is commonplace for many menstruators to flush their used tampons down the toilet. This is not good for the pipes. The tampon’s absorbent material is not meant to be flushed because it can expand and build up in the pipes causing clogs and backups. When a tampon is flushed, if it doesn’t get snagged on something along the way, it ends up in the treatment plant where it will get separated as solid waste and ultimately sent to the landfill. Because tampon companies distribute packaging stating that tampons are "okay" to flush, the fault of improper disposal of tampons does not lie solely with consumers. The plumbing community has spoken up about this and tries to warn consumers of the dangers of flushing tampons down the toilet, but it is still a common practice of menstruators across the US and beyond.
Potential solutions to these health disparities can be found in health education programs established by NGOs. In such a program, females can learn about their reproductive system and the importance of keeping hygienic menstruation, while males are educated on how to respect and promote sustainable menstruation in our society. Since The Sustainable Agers would like to encourage sustainable menstruation, it is important to also provide sustainable products that can improve women's lives and protect our environment, like the menstrual cup we handed out to students across Dallas County.
As women leaders, we are sure that every female has suffered, at least once in life, discrimination or harassment, and we can say that some of them have been looked down upon because of menstruation, which is seen as a form of weakness instead of a healthy biological function. We need to create a safe environment where every single woman can feel comfortable and confident during their period.
Even though UN Sustainable Development Goals do not have a specific target for achieving sustainable menstruation, menstrual hygiene is still directly related to achieving several of the proposed goals:
SDG 3, ensuring healthy lives, and promoting well–being for all of all ages, its target 3.7 promotes "universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes."
SDG 4, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning, its target 4.5 encourages to "eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations."
SDG5, achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, its target 5.6 encourages"ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action."
SDG 6, ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, in its target 6.3 promotes the improvement of "water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally."
SDG 8, Decent Work & Economic Growth, in its target 8.4 encourages to "improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavor to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production, with developed countries taking the lead."
As you perceive, dear reader, menstruation is implicit in a huge part of our targets; therefore, it is our duty to improve it sustainably. If you would like to learn a little more about this topic, watch here the Sustainable Menstruation Conversation hosted by Dallas College in 2021.
Anuradha R Tiwary. International Journal of Health Sciences and Research “Role of Menstrual Hygiene in Sustainable Development Goals” May 2018. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1FjMBYhmHB_n1nkODfSldqvzXpmBj3G8Z/view?ts=607881a2
Goldberg, Emma. The New York Times. “Many Lack Access to Pads and Tampons. What Are Lawmakers Doing About It?” Jan. 13, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/13/us/tampons-pads-period.html
Gonsioroski, Andressa; Mourikes, Vasiliki E.; and Flaws, Jodi A. US National Library of Medicine
National Institutes of Health. “Endocrine Disruptors in Water and Their Effects on the Reproductive System.” March 12th, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7139484/
Jill Litman. The Public Health Advocate “Menstruation Stigma Must Stop. Period.” Jun 05, 2018
Lufadeju, Yemi. UNICEF. “Fast Facts: nine things you didn’t know about menstruation”. May 28th, 2018. https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/fast-facts-nine-things-you-didnt-know-about-menstruation#:~:text=Menstruation%20is%20stigmatized%20all%20over,about%20two%20to%20seven%20days.
Magazine, STANFORD. “Planet-Friendly Periods.” STANFORD Magazine, stanfordmag.org/contents/planet-friendly-periods.
“Time to Accept Reality and Stop Flushing Tampons Down the Toilet.” Jezebel, 24 Apr. 2014, jezebel.com/time-to-accept-reality-and-stop-flushing-tampons-down-t-1566737300.
The Global indicator framework for the Sustainable Development Goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.