The World Has Come a Long Way: 5 Years of Change in Women’s Menstrual Health

The World Has Come a Long Way: 5 Years of Change in Women’s Menstrual Health 2560 1707

The World Has Come a Long Way: 5 Years of Change in Women’s Menstrual Health

It was just five years ago that we published our first blog post: “Discussing Uterine Fibroids – How to Help Your Doctor Help You.”

At the time, fibroids weren’t a widely spoken-about topic. Physicians’ – and even gynaecologists’! – medical training was often insufficient when it came to diagnosing and treating fibroids. Untold numbers of women were waved away with superficial comments about “women’s problems” or, at the other extreme, advised to undergo a hysterectomy.


For women with uterine fibroids, lives became difficult and pain-ridden for a few days every month (in the best of circumstances) or for every day, all year long. And the worst part of it all? The women suffering felt utterly alone. If you couldn’t even bring it up with your medical professional without being made to feel ridiculous, you certainly weren’t going to bring it up over coffee with the girls.

Celebrities Share

And then, thankfully, things started to change. The past five years have seen an increasing number of celebrities opening up about their struggles with fibroids.

Just the awareness that widely admired personalities were coping with the challenges of fibroids is by itself enough to bring strength and reassurance to those women coping privately with their own fibroids. The message? You are NOT alone.

Additionally, when a celebrity talks publicly about a topic, it raises the awareness of that topic in the public eye. When uterine fibroids get a cameo appearance on Good Morning America, it suddenly becomes a topic that CAN be discussed over coffee with the girls. You can raise it with your doctor without feeling like he is going to dismiss you out of hand.

Breaking Taboos

The veils surrounding fibroids are representative of the more general veils surrounding the whole process of menstruation. The veils were especially thick in developing countries, where cultural norms and beliefs avoided any public mention of or dealings with menstruation.

The past five years have seen major change in this area as both public and private organizations join forces to increase awareness and education, along with defusing taboos and stigmas.

The most outstanding example is the 2019 Oscar Award-winning film “Period. End of Sentence.” Initiated and produced by Californian high school students, this documentary details the effect that zero or limited access to feminine hygiene products has on young women in India: infection from unhygienic absorbent materials and the foregoing of education and careers when they are forced to miss several days of school each month. The film then shows the impact on the area’s female population with the introduction of a low-cost pad-making machine: women and girls are empowered to protect their health and take care of themselves, in addition to the development of a micro-economy that supports the women who operate the machine.

The documentary has developed into The Pad Project, raising money to enable other Indian women in rural areas to start low-cost pad production facilities. When director Rayka Zehtabchi received her Oscar, she was overwhelmed with the impact and the societal change the film signified. “I can’t believe a movie about menstruation just won an Oscar!”

Another menstruation taboo-breaking film out of India is Pad Man. It’s a commercial film, not a documentary, but it is based on the true story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, the social entrepreneur who invented the low cost pad machine that starred in the “Period. End of Sentence.” documentary.

The World Health Organization instituted Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28th, to raise awareness and provide girls and women worldwide with education about healthy ways of managing menstruation.

Providing Practical Help

It’s not only rural India that suffers from the lack of menstruation resources. Even within the European Union, the United States and Canada, “period poverty” can affect about 10% of young women, with girls staying home from school and work because they can’t afford sanitary products.

The past five years have seen increasing activism to publicize period poverty and put an end to it. The government of Scotland created a fund to supply free sanitary products to all schools and university students in the country.

The topic of VAT on sanitary products (otherwise known as the “tampon tax”) has surfaced constantly in the past few years. Unlike “essential” items such as groceries and medications, sanitary products are classified as “non-essential, luxury items” and taxed as such. VAT in some European nations can be as high as 27%, a significant enough addition to make hygiene products unaffordable to low-income families.

Canada abolished sales tax on sanitary products in 2015, setting off reverberations worldwide. Many U.S. states have since dropped sales tax on feminine hygiene products. More recently, India ended sales tax on sanitary products in 2018.

Many European nations have made a move toward lowering the sanitary product VAT to the lowest allowable EU VAT bracket: 5%. Only EU legislation forbidding a 0% rate VAT bracket is stopping some countries from dropping it altogether. Activists have taken up the cause, arguing strongly that sanitary products are no less essential than toilet paper and campaigning to officially abolish any VAT. This issue even played a part in the Brexit campaigns.

What Do the Next Five Years Hold?

It’s thrilling to witness the steady advances in women’s awareness of and access to menstrual health resources. We feel privileged and gratified at the role we have been able to play in the process.

Here are our wishes for the next five years of work and progress:

  • Tax is abolished on menstrual products worldwide
  • Free/affordable feminine hygiene products are available to all women, regardless of culture or income level
  • Education for pre-adolescents surrounding a “normal period” experience, ensuring that they know to alert a parent or medical professional if they bleed excessively or experience severe pain

Are you with us?

Full speed ahead toward a brighter future!