I'm sure not many people can say they have a double garage full of sanitary pads, not even those who like to shop at Costco or be prepared for a rainy day...or a heavy flow. I've pushed the bulk purchase to a whole new level. Why, you may ask? Well... Please read on.
About two years ago I had an idea. The idea came flying at me from many angles. I was studying industrial design at uni, and had just been to Europe to exhibit a chair I'd designed.
When I was in Europe I got my period.
It was here I was made aware for the first time of this incredible thing called 'the menstrual cup'. For those of you who are like- huh? ...like I was.. It's a silicon cup that you insert into your vagina to collect your menstrual blood, you can leave it in for up to 12 hours, there's no chance of toxic shock syndrome, you empty it, wash it, put it back in and they can last for up to ten years. How's that! what!? wow!? Of course I bought one and was so amazed that something like this wasn't very well known in Australia, I wanted to tell every woman I knew about it. I did a little research and learnt that they had actually been invented around the 1930's, about the same time as the first tampon came to be.
I started doing more and more research into the feminine hygiene market. I was trying to figure out why not much has changed in so long when it comes to the products we have available. I used my cup. Although it sounded amazing, for me, it actually didn't work as well as I had hoped. I was still using pads and tampons. I thought I could design something better, or even, something completely different. In my research I realised how women are all different. They have such different needs. Personal preference, religion and health amongst a host of other influences come into it. There should be more options for us.
I read more, and I was shocked to learn about the chemicals that are used in some of the processes to manufacture many pads and tampons on the market. How much plastic is used that after a just a few hours use, ends up in landfill for hundreds if not thousands of years. Pesticides are sprayed all over the cotton to help it grow without insects making a dinner of it. Chlorine used to bleach them. This stuff is going into our bodies.
Around the same time I heard about an Australian based charity providing education scholarships to girls in Sierra Leone, one of the worlds poorest countries, called One Girl.
After sending their first bunch of girls to school they realised they weren't going all the time, they were missing up to a week of school every month because of THEIR PERIODS. They would fall behind at school, struggle in exams and eventually drop out. I was gobsmacked. Like I've heard many women talk about when they first heard about Share the Dignity, I had honestly never given it any thought what people do when they can't afford or don't have access to sanitary products. I definitely didn't think something so easy for me to manage could affect someone else's ability to stay in school. I decided to take part in One Girl's yearly charity fundraising challenge, and set myself the challenge of having my period using the methods I'd heard women resort to when they don't have access to affordable sanitary products. I used rags, newspaper, kitchen sponges and leaves. I was also going to use bark, yes bark from a tree, but when I went to the tree to pull some off I actually couldn't bring myself to do it. I really felt something strong, for a woman to be in the position that bark is her best option, that definitely is not a good position.
So, coming full circle I felt compelled to try and do something to help. Life feels better for me when I help, and this is how I've decided to do so.
I sourced a product from a manufacturer working with sustainable fibres. They make bamboo fibre disposable sanitary pads. Bamboo is an amazing material. It grows so quickly, the harvesting process doesn't erode the soil- it's cut like a grass, and keeps growing, rather than being ripped out by the roots like cotton. It's naturally pest resistant, meaning no chemicals or pesticides are needed to grow it. The structure of the fibre is quite hollow, so it has lots of room for absorbing moisture, which is perfect for pads, drawing the moisture away from your body.
The pads have one layer of polyethylene plastic, to ensure they are leak proof- there would be no point if they leaked right? But we are working together on making a version that works just as well and uses a biodegradable plastic. That's exciting. Then they are individually wrapped in a biodegradable plastic sleeve to keep them clean, a recyclable cardboard box, again, reducing the plastic that will sit in landfill forever. They are also free from chlorine and dioxin bleach.
I needed just over $40 000 to buy my first order from the manufacturers. That's where the garage full of pads comes into it. I didn't have $40 000. No bank would take me seriously when I told them what I wanted the money for, so I decided to try and crowd fund the idea. In May last year about 1200 women believed in my idea and invested about $30 each to pre-order some of these pads until I had reached the amount I needed to buy my first shipping container. In October they arrived, and now here I am...with lots of pads.
These bamboo pads I sell go under the name Tsuno. If you are wondering how to say that, it's kind of like tsunami. But it didn't actually have anything to do with the 'crimson wave', that was a funny connection I realised afterwards. Yoko Tsuno was a cartoon character who was the epitome of a competent woman. She was an engineer, a pilot, a scuba diver, amongst many other great things. Nothing really held her back, and definitely not her period. I liked the name. It's good. Tsuno is good.
Why is Tsuno good? I donate 50% of net profits from the sale of these pads to charities helping to empower women in the developing world. Right now I have an agreement with the International Women's Development Agency who work with women in South East Asia and the Pacific.
About six weeks ago I heard about Share the Dignity. Before then I had not given much thought to what it must be like to be a homeless woman in Australia, or seeking refuge from domestic violence. Since then, 3687 boxes of pads have been donated to the Share the Dignity drive through the Tsuno website.
I've decided from today until the end of August, any donations that are made via the Tsuno website to Share the Dignity, I will match one for one. Let's reach the goal of providing adequate sanitary protection to every woman in Australia, when they need it most.
Periods! We all dread them. There I’ve put it out there.
Now here’s the deal. Everyone women knows the pain and uncomfortableness that their period brings. We dread our time of the month like a visit by a loud, overbearing, opinionated Aunt. None of us welcome the visit by Aunt Flow, however it is a regular visit we will have to endure. Let’s face it though; the men in our lives brace themselves for our visitor as well.
Regardless of the fact that roughly 50% of the population experiences periods, they are still such an awkward topic to discuss. Periods may be a ‘woman’s issue’, however it doesn’t mean that we are the only ones suffering the consequences of them.
I’m sure there are plenty of men out there who have had to do a tampon run to the shops, make a heat pack for a suffering partner or even deal with the hormonal beast she may (apparently) turn into.
Yesterday I received a donation for Share the Dignity. It was brought to me in an opaque bag from a man who had been given the delivery task from his missus. He sheepishly came up and handed me the bag, we had a joke about it and then we moved on.
It got me thinking though. Isn’t it time to remove the awkwardness surrounding the lady period? We don’t have to avoid the topic like we are all at a sleepover and someone did a sneaky fart.
Without the wonders of the female body we wouldn’t be here. A period is part of the wonder.
One of the most common responses to Share the Dignity has been ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe that I have never thought of this issue.’ Maybe the awkwardness is why it has taken until now for everyone to solve the problem.
I'm still fairly new here at Share the Dignity, but I am so glad to be a part of this amazing team.
A little back ground on me - I am a mum to two girls (5 &1), a wife and a nurse. About two months back I made my 40 by 40 list. With 40 things I want to achieve by the time I turn 40 (early I know, I still have 15 years...). One of those items on my list was to volunteer/donate my time to something that has meaning for me.
When I heard about Share the Dignity I knew this was something I WANTED to be a part of and signed up to be a collection point. A few days later the opportunity to help more behind the scenes came up and I jumped at it.
Being involved with Share the Dignity has led to a few interesting conversations with people... including with my 5 year old daughter.
While helping my package up open packs into care packages the conversation went a little something like this:
5 Year Old: "What are these, mum?"
Me: “They are tampons”
5 Year Old: "What are they for?"
Me: "For bigger girls to help keep their undies clean" (patting myself on the back for avoiding explaining periods)
5 Year Old: "So, when I'm 6 I can use them?"
Me: "I think we have finished making packs! Let’s pack up"
I was actually a bit worried when I saw an email from her teacher in my inbox that I was going to receive a reprimand and that 5 Year Old had been standing on a soap box somewhere giving lectures on tampons. But - thank goodness the email was only about lemons.
A few days earlier, when I was in Coles buying some sanitary items for my own use, 5 Year Old asked: "Mum, are they lady pads for the homeless?” I think my whole suburb was at Coles that day. In the same aisle.
My husband is very tolerant of the whole thing, although slightly bemused. He came home from a bike ride with 5 Year Old the other day, walked in the door and said “Um, there are a few boxes of things at the front door"- someone had made a delivery while I was out the back. Quite. A. Few. Tena Pants.
When people find out about Share The Dignity, the reaction is often the same. "I never once thought about it".
Neither did I.
Now I have I am determined to help give our homeless and at risk women the dignity of sanitary items when they need them.
I know I’m not going to be able to solve all the world’s problems - but being able to help homeless and at risk women have dignity while menstruating is important. Letting ANYONE have their dignity is very important. I think we need to remember there are many people in need who don't get the attention that other organisations/charities receive. I think of how I would feel if it was me in that situation (which is a similar approach I have to nursing "what if that was my mum/dad/grandparent/child laying in that bed, how would I want THEM treated")
I've had people tell me stories about them/friends/family members who have been homeless for whatever reason, and only literally having the clothes on their back. There was a message on the weekend from one lady who had been close to homeless and having to make the choice to buy pads or not. Now that she is back on her feet she is donating to others- this made me cry. This is a woman who has been there and seen the need for assistance, now giving to those who need it.
I have to admit it's a pretty awesome bunch of women in Share The Dignity. All of us are volunteers. We seems to have the right mix of crazy, funny, loving, caring, welcoming and helpful. I didn't know any of them before joining Share the Dignity, but I am so glad I know them now.
I am a female, and I find getting my period a big hassle.
I am also a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) researcher in developed and developing countries, and I get to speak to women around the globe who don’t have the comfort of Nurofen, wheat heats and chocolate to deal with “that time of the month”. A lot of them don’t even have the convenience of somewhere to wash their hands before changing their pad, tampon or menstrual cup.
I am a Board Member of Share the Dignity and Strategic Advisor to the Secretariat of Menstrual Hygiene Day because I strongly believe that women everywhere should be able to manage their period with comfort and dignity. Yet here are some facts which may shock you:
Where women do not have access to affordable, hygienic and safe products and facilities, they use whatever they can find to manage their flow. This includes things such as old rags, husks, dried leaves, grass, ash, sand or newspapers. This practice is not confined to developing countries: homeless women in Australia have also been known to use such measures;
An overwhelming amount of girls have never even heard of menstruation when they experience their first period!
Some have heard of it but have been told it is a disease;
In some cultures it is a common belief that women don’t begin menstruating until they have lost their virginity- which can lead to cruel and harsh punishments, often by male family members;
Although it is illegal, in some areas of Nepal women are banished from their households whilst they bleed, which results in physical and emotional isolation, and exposes women to unhygienic conditions and wild animal attacks;
Where female genital mutilation is practiced, women may have such a small opening left to urinate and menstruate through that their periods can last for three weeks, which is uncomfortable and can lead to infection;
Where hygienic and private toilet facilities are not provided, pubescent girls often do not attend school during their period, or drop out altogether.
None of these things are ok, and there are amazing organisations around the world working on programs to change these conditions, including the United Nations Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council who, amongst other things, work on advocacy programs to encourage governments to include Menstrual Hygiene Management in national policies (and they are succeeding! Since 2013 Menstrual Hygiene Management has been part of India’s Sanitation Policy).
Most of us don’t work for the UN. But all of us can make a difference, starting here in Australia.
We need to change the way that menstruation is talked about in our society. Teenage girls should not be teased about being “on their rags”, and women of all ages should not be discriminated against during this time. Stories abound from women and girls who have suffered in silence for fear of embarrassment around admitting that they have their period and could use a little kindness. But why is menstruation such a taboo topic?
I know that most of the people who read this blog will be female – menstruation is not something our male companions will ever experience firsthand, and it may not even be on their radar as a global issue. But it is crucial that we engage men and boys in discussions around menstrual hygiene – after all, they all have women they care about, and they’re all here because their mother menstruated.
So go ahead, get the conversation started – for me a random question about the “Menstrual Hygiene Awareness” bracelet I was wearing at Christmas breakfast was my opportunity to open up lines of communication with my grandfather, who coincidentally has three daughters and three granddaughters. Despite his obvious discomfort as we munched on croissants last year, he is now posting on Facebook against the “Tampon Tax”.
If you’re really keen, encourage the men in your life to follow in the footsteps of 15-year-old Joss Garcia, who carries sanitary products in his school bag for when his female friends are in need, and has been calling on other boys to do the same.
And of course, please take the time to donate to Share the Dignity, either by placing sanitary items in the bins at one of our Collection Sites or online via Tsuno. Better still, begin a collection in your own workplace!
No woman should ever suffer the indignity of not being able to manager her period privately and hygienically.
So last week I got my period for the first time in three years. Without going into too much gory detail, I had an intrauterine device taken out which prevented me getting much, if one at all, since I had my last child. No, I am definitely not planning any more children sadly (we haven’t actually figured out what we are doing about contraception yet. But I think you kind of need time to have sex so might be safe for a while). I just felt like my body needed a break. Since taking it out my headaches have dissappeard and my skin no longer resembles a teenage boy with a diet consisting of pure sugar. But all that is an entirely another story.
The return of my “monthlies” (oh how much I hate that word!) brought back all the hassle and the pain I had forgotten about. I wasn’t expecting it so soon and was unprepared. After showering I had to dash off down to chemist wearing black pants, desperately hoping I wouldn’t show the poor pharmacist any evidence of my predicament. On arriving home I had another shower and was able to feel comfortable, clean and safe. I could even heat a wheat back for my back pain.
Whilst doing this it occurred to me how incredibly ironic it was that I was going through all of this the very week I was doing so much work for Share The Dignity and, thinking about those women, who are not as fortunate as I am. I had clean clothes, a hot shower and enough money to buy tampons without giving up on anything else I needed.
What we go through is women is so primal, so out of our control. We all have various levels of issues but it basically amounts to same thing. I am woman – hear me roar with PMS every month. And see me buy tampons.
I can remember the first day I got my period. I cried. I’m not sure why. I was 14 and I suppose I just didn’t want to admit I was growing up. It seemed so…. strange and bewildering. There are young girls on the street as I write this who are going to be getting their period for the first time without any loving mother’s advice, without any warm shower, and without any money to buy appropriate pads or undies. And who shows or helps them how to use a tampon?
I want to wrap every single one of these girls up warm and dry and give them a place where they can feel normal. But I can’t. What I can do is what I am doing I guess. Helping Rochelle and the amazing women who are taking the initiative and running with this cause. Sharing the dignity….. For the women and girls who just need someone to acknowledge them.