Irise works to offer girls a choice of products and the information they and their communities need to use them safely- by doing this we break the taboo and help move girls' needs up the priority list. You can help by taking action this Menstrual Hygiene Day- £5 helps Irise support a girl to menstruate with dignity through enabling her community to support her.
What about you? Do you know your choices?
Here are products you can choose from and a bit about their history.
Disposable pads were first sold in the 1890s, but didn’t take off until the release of Kotex (short for cotton texture) pads in the 1920s. These were developed after army nurses found the absorbent bandaging material used in World War I useful for menstrual pads. Their release coincided with the women’s suffrage movements and the ideal of the New Woman. Manufactured pads were marketed to socially mobile and financially secure women: one pad cost the equivalent of a loaf of bread. Women were embarrassed to openly ask for pads so Kotex were sold in plain blue boxes, while Johnson & Johnson brought out a “silent purchase coupon” so that no word about periods need be uttered. Until the 1970s, when self-adhesive pads became available, pads had to be secured with secured with belts or pins.
Tampax tampons were first sold in 1936. As early pads were difficult to secure, tampons were more practical for use during sports and dancing. Women also became more physically active as they joined the war effort in World War II which also made tampons increasingly appealing. The case of toxic shock syndrome fatalities caused by Proctor & Gamble’s superabsorbent tampon Rely in 1980 led to scrutiny over commercial products and the standards of menstrual product regulation. Even though tampons are so widely used today, to openly carry them and reveal menstrual status can generate negative societal attitudes towards women. A research experiment where a woman dropped either a tampon or a hairclip, revealed that in cases where the tampon was displayed both women and men viewed her as less competent and likable, and physically distanced themselves from her.
With an increase in environmental activism, cloth pads saw some popularity in the 1970s. Today, a woman goes through an average of 11,000 disposable menstrual products in her lifetime, with used menstrual products amounting to over 200,000 tonnes of waste per year. Depending on how often they are changed as part of a cycle of cloth pads, reusable pads can last for two years - so in the long run are economical as well as environmentally friendly.
Cloth pads fasten with poppers on the wings and should be changed with the same regularity as disposable pads. The material is more breathable than synthetic plastic pads, and they don’t contain the chemicals which can be found in some disposables. The pads can be rinsed in cold water before being machine washed. Another benefit is that reusable pads can be easily produced with layers of fabric and a sewing machine so can be made anywhere.
The first menstrual cup was invented in 1937 by Leona W. Chalmers but, with a rubber shortage during the war and being a thick material which made them difficult to use, the product did not take off. They were reintroduced to the market as the Tassaway in 1959-1963 but interest remained low. It wasn’t until 1989 with the Keeper cup that sales improved, although the latex material could crack and cause allergic reactions for some. Now there are many brands of menstrual products made from medical grade silicon which is hypoallergenic and durable. As someone new to menstrual cups, I found choosing my first one somewhat daunting. This chart (www.menstrualcup.co/menstrual-cup-comparison-chart) is good for highlighting the differences between brands and models. Recently, a menstrual cup called the Keela cup was created with an adjustable pull-string to make use easier, designed with disabled people in mind first and foremost.
Lunapad introduced their ‘period panties’ in 1993. Other manufacturers include WUKA and THINX. The underwear has moisture-wicking fabric to capture leaks and protects against stains. Some makes have the possibility to add absorbent inserts of different thickness to match the heaviness of menstrual flow. The pants can be used in tandem with pads for those with heavy periods or for women with endometriosis or bladder weakness. They come in a variety of styles, including THINX’s ‘Boyshort’ cut which is inclusive of transgender menstruators.
Nicola has a Master’s in Human Rights and International Politics from Glasgow University and wrote her dissertation on the impact of period poverty on women’s rights in the UK. She is currently doing European Voluntary Service in the Czech Republic with a gender equality organisation.
 SHARRA L. VOSTRAL (2008) ‘UNDER WRAPS: A HISTORY OF MENSTRUAL HYGIENE TECHNOLOGY’ P65-68 WWW.MUM.ORG/BELTS.HTM CHRIS BOBEL (2010) ‘NEW BLOOD: THIRD-WAVE FEMINISM AND THE POLITICS OF MENSTRUATION’, P40-42 Toni-Ann Roberts et al (2002), ‘“Feminine Protection”: The Effects of Menstruation on Attitudes Towards Women’, Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26 pp131–139