A month ago, on May 28, it was International Menstrual Hygiene Day. One day of the year to make us more aware of the importance of good menstrual hygiene. Because if you are teased (or blessed) with ‘that period of the month,’ you know that good menstrual hygiene takes time, energy, and a lot of money.
If you think about it, it is quite special that about half the world’s population in their lives has to organize for several days per month. Every month, for about 40 years, blood loss is often also accompanied by other physical complaints such as stomachache, backache, or headache. A whole billion-dollar industry has been built around all kinds of remedies to make it ‘as pleasant as possible’ for people with a period. As expected, most of that market is occupied by all sorts of variations on sanitary napkins, pantyliners, tampons, … We also asked about this in the questionnaire that Isala’s participants completed. About 61% of our Isala participants indicated that they used sanitary towels, 56% used tampons, and 40% used pantyliners. Our questionnaire also showed that almost half of the Isala participants use different products during their menstruation (sanitary pads at night but tampons during the day).
In line with the general trend to live more sustainably, sustainable alternatives have come onto the market (to replace disposable sanitary napkins, pantyliners, and tampons). One of them is the menstrual cup. If you are not aware: the menstrual cup is a kind of ‘cup’ or chalice made of soft plastic, which you insert into your vagina and collect the blood you lose. Be sure to check out our conversation starter on this topic soon. We saw that the menstrual cup was quite popular among the Isala participants. Almost 1 in 4 participants indicated that they use it. The answers also showed other reusable alternatives such as washable sanitary towels, washable pantyliners, special menstrual underwear, and sponges are not (completely) unknown to you.
Besides saving a lot of waste, these reusable menstrual products can also save you some money in the longer term. The initial cost is higher; however, they can be reused. After several cycles, you will have this cost out. As we mentioned above, a period also costs a lot of money. A study of American women in 2019 estimated that someone with a period spends an average of $ 12.05 per month on menstrual products, which equates to a tidy sum of $ 144.6 per year or $ 5,780 over a lifetime.
When you hear these numbers, it may not surprise you that there is ‘period poverty.’ This means that some do not have enough money to buy menstrual products. Unfortunately, little research has been done in Belgium; therefore, it is difficult to estimate how frequently menstrual poverty occurs. We can look at our neighboring countries, such as the Netherlands. It is estimated that about 1/10 people with a period do not have sufficient financial means to purchase menstrual products—quite a lot of people.
Hence, despite the stigma that still prevails around this, some brave individuals are trying to do something about it. For example, there have been many protests around the ‘ tampon tax ’in recent years. These are the taxes that are levied on menstrual products. Until 2018, tampons, sanitary towels, etc., were incorrectly seen in Belgium as a ‘luxury product.’ The VAT rate (taxes paid) for this was 21%, but it was reduced to 6%. Although this is not nearly enough to prevent menstrual poverty. The lack of menstrual products, for example, still appears to be an important reason for missing school. Therefore, it was decided in several regions such as the United Kingdom and some states in the US that tampons and sanitary towels should be offered for free in high schools, colleges, and universities. Earlier this year, Scotland took it one step further. It became the first country in the world to make them available for free to all those who needed menstrual products. Hopefully, several countries, including Belgium, will follow this fine example.
A few companies that sell menstrual products and NGOs are also starting great initiatives to combat menstrual poverty. For example, Organicup has several projects running worldwide in collaboration with NGOs such as WoMena and Freedom4Girls. Intimina also works with the latter and also supports Period. Period is one of the largest organizations dedicated to breaking the taboo around menstruation and reducing menstrual poverty. These are just a few (inspiring) examples. Maybe check if your trusted brand of menstrual products is committed to a good cause.