By Chris Bobel
March 31, 2018
The period is finally having its moment.
In the last decade, the difficulties women and girls across the globe face during menstruation have inspired a raft of grass-roots campaigns. “Period poverty” activists seek to make menstrual products more affordable and available. International agencies like Plan International, Water Aid, U.N. Women and Unicef are supporting menstrual hygiene programs in dozens of countries. Access to safe, accessible bathrooms and materials to manage menstruation is now recognized as a human rights issue that involves many other areas of development, like clean water, education and gender equality.
These shifts are certainly heartening. For centuries, around the world, menstruation has been treated as a source of shame, rather than as a normal, healthy part of women’s lives. Initiatives to “make menstruation matter” are both welcome and overdue.
Why, then, after years studying these efforts, do I feel ambivalent? Because too many of them have opted to focus on providing women with new products, failing to substantively fight the core problem surrounding menstruation: cultural stigma.
Consider the humble piece of cloth. Many Westerners are horrified to learn that repurposed cloth is commonly used by women in poor countries to manage their periods. Yet cloth is absorbent, readily available, cheap and sustainable. Folded or cut to size, changed as necessary and properly washed and dried, it can be sanitary and effective.