Guest post by Frances Lucraft
Feminine hygiene is a topic which gets little attention yet is a huge global problem. Poor access to sanitary products, cultural taboos and lack of education about menstruation prevents millions of girls from continuing their education, hampers women’s working life, and renders many vulnerable to health issues. Simultaneously, the disposable products used in developed countries contribute to landfill and pollution at alarming rates.
If, like most sane people, you consider tampons and sanitary towels to be “essentials” rather than “luxury products”, then you’d be wrong in the eyes of current legislation in many parts of the world. In response to campaigns to end the so-called “tampon tax”, the UK’s ‘tax collectors’ the great HMRC, has stated that the current five per cent VAT rate is the lowest possible under EU guidelines. HMRC categorises tampons and sanitary towels as “non-essential, luxury” items. On the other hand, as the wonderful Laura Coryton (who I was privileged to jointly organise a protest march in Bristol in May this year on this exact topic) points out in her petition calling for an end to the tax on menstrual products. In 2001 the government did agree to put them on a reduced rate, but, hey crocodile meat, edible sugar flowers...and those all essential desert jellies, of which are all 'apparently' considered 'essential' enough items by Mr George Osborne, Chancellor of our Exchequer, to exist tax free. The vitality of sanitary products however, has been routinely ignored by our male dominated cabinet!
For most women a period is deemed as being a pain, an inconvenience, but for the poorest members of society it is a very real problem. Women who are homeless, for example, cannot afford to be spending money on sanitary products. So they are forced to go without, which can lead to poor hygiene, and to ill health. You may be surprised that shelters for the homeless get a government grant to buy condoms for people, but there is absolutely NO help when it comes to sanitary products for women. This is not only utterly ridiculous, but utterly shameful, especially in low income countries where the lack of access to menstrual hygiene is a total affront to human rights.
It’s important to recognise that menstruation affects women and girls’ health, dignity and confidence, as well as their participation in education, their community and the economy. But just because women and girls cope perfectly well, or at least appear to, it doesn’t mean menstrual hygiene management is an issue that can be overlooked by those working in the development sector.
While TV ads for period protection in the UK may leave the impression that sanitary protection is invisible - NEVER have I felt the urge to jump a hedge in glee or spin joyously around and around in a field of daisies donned head-to-toe in white; and just like the obliqueness of that all so familiar ‘blue liquid’ in those TV ads, these ‘stereotypes’ as well as menstrual taboos are so rarely discussed.
Then comes the shocking cultural statistics. WaterAid cites that 95% of girls in rural Ghana said they felt embarrassed during their last period and 90% said they felt ashamed. Of girls in Malawi, 82% did not know about menstruation before the onset of menarche (their first period). Girls are also excluded from water sources during menstruation and prohibited from cooking or bathing in some communities.
After working in the water & sanitation sector for many years, and learning about menstrual hygiene management equality, I decided to turn my frustration and anger into something positive. Eco Hygiene Care addresses three issues – access to feminine hygiene in developing countries and disaster zones; addressing the devastating environmental impact of disposable sanitary products; and educating women about their health by providing safe, chemical-free options.
We address these problems by creating reusable and biodegradable hygiene products that use 100% organic cotton. We also invest 10% of pre-tax profits into improving education about, and access to, feminine hygiene in developing countries. The profits from the sales will go towards improving menstrual hygiene in developing countries, as well as supporting and providing products in disaster zones.
A large part of our ethos rests on improving access to environmentally-friendly sanitary products across the world. We believe all women and girls must have choice – on a par with what men and boys have. Girls across the developing world should be given as many choices about their education and future as women and girls in the UK benefit from. Anything else is simply a gender-based injustice that goes against their (and our) human rights.
We are now close to launching, and are focusing on discovering the latest research related to the issues that move us, exposing the truth and reality of menstruation around the world, spreading awareness and educating all who express an interest. We are an ethical brand that cares deeply about every action we take, from the manufacturing process to the people we work with. We want to restore consumer faith that it is possible to have safe, reliable feminine hygiene products that are healthy for you and gentle on the planet.
Grace and Green (Eco Hygiene Care’s commercial arm) is due to launch in January, 2016 They are now taking pre-orders for products in their online store. Members of the young Foundation will receive 20% off their first order by entering the discount code: chemical free period
Did you know?
- A woman will use 11,000 disposable sanitary products in her lifetime (MoonCup)
- In some areas of Nepal women must not enter the home; or touch water supplies, animals or men while they have their period (WaterAid)
- One sanitary towel contains the equivalent amount of plastic as four plastic bags (Naturally Savvy)
- 1 in 3 schoolgirls in South Asia were not aware of menstruation before [starting their period]. (Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2014)
- 83% of girls in Burkina Faso and 77% in Niger have no place at school to change their sanitary menstrual materials (Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2014)