In recent decades, the variety of menstrual products and materials available to manage menstruation and the menstrual cycle has increased immensely, particularly in higher-income countries. It’s about time that there were more options on the market, because there is not one perfect product that will fit the needs of every person. Menstrual product solutions are finally becoming as diverse as the people seeking them.
Considering how regularly period products are used, we might assume that all commercially available period products are well-tested and harmless to our bodies.
However, this is not the case.
Many countries across the globe do not have standards to protect the health and safety of users, and the product information provided is often insufficient or simply nonexistent.
‘Menstrual product standards’ were recently defined in the Glossary for the Global Menstrual Movement, as national, regional or global regulations and requirements which ensure safety, compatibility and consistency of materials used in menstrual products, including production process, performance, usage care information, disposal and packaging. These standards are necessary to ensure consumer safety and individual wellbeing.
And yet, the current situation of menstrual product standards is alarming to say the least.
Different legal categorizations lead to inconsistent requirements for ingredients, production and testing of products. Many countries do not obligate manufacturers to fully disclose the materials, ingredients, or components of menstrual products on packaging. Many times it’s because the nonwoven fabrics lobbying groups are strong which keep regulation weak, and other times it’s because the market is ahead of the government when it comes to producing consumer goods to fill unmet needs. This can lead to consumers being exposed to unsafe or undesired materials, as they cannot be aware of what is in a product when purchasing the items. This, together with the increasing movement of products across borders, makes it nearly impossible for end-users to understand if a product is safe or not. Making an informed choice is simply not possible.
Many menstrual health (MH) products are inserted or come in close contact with vaginal tissue, which creates an even higher health risk when the safety of the product is not guaranteed.
Since there is so little data around the number of users adversely affected by menstrual products, we don’t know to what extent this creates a harmful impact for female health.
This all in addition to availability and choice being severely limited for consumers as menstrual cups and reusable cloth-based products are often not even considered when developing standards.
Knowing how menstrual products can potentially impact one’s health is an essential part of menstrual equity. As long as there are menstrual products on the market that are not upheld to agreed upon standards, the health of the people who use them cannot be guaranteed.
With so many other products used on or in the body that are strongly regulated and/or standardized, you might be asking yourself — why are there no standards for products that help manage menstruation? Recent research suggests that one of the fundamental reasons for this is the stigma that is still attached to menstruation. When we don’t talk about menstruation, and try to hide it as much as possible, it does not get prioritized on any agendas, let alone the standardization agenda. The research also suggests that because most products used on or in the body are heavily regulated, many people assume menstrual products are too.
With a lack of international and oftentimes national standards in place, menstrual health companies have taken up the responsibility of regulating themselves and creating their own standards for quality assurance to safeguard the health of their end users — menstruators across the globe.
We held an informal consultation with seven menstrual health companies (Aakar Innovations, Aisle, AFRIpads, Callaly, DivaCares / DivaCup, Einhorn, Kasole Secrets Company / Glory Sanitary napkins) and MH experts to explore the ways in which MH markets lack a concerted effort to ensure the safety, efficacy and accessibility of the supply and demand of MH products.
Download the ‘In Standards We Trust’ report here: https://mhhub.org/in-standards-we-trust
Thankfully, things are beginning to shift. Advocates from all around the world have been working tirelessly to ensure that consumers are able to access and choose from a variety of high-quality and certified products.
Recently, at least two-thirds of the International Organization for Standards (ISO) member countries voted ‘yes,’ to launch a new field of technical activity focusing on standardization of menstrual products. This Technical Committee will cover all products intended for both single and multiple use, regardless of the material they are made out of. This global effort has been a huge step forward to regulate the period product industry as a whole.
Parallel to pushing the needle forward on menstrual product standards has been a great effort from Development Solutions with support from the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition (RHSC) Innovation Fund Grant under the Menstrual Health Supplies Workstream. Together, they have implemented a project on disposable and reusable sanitary pads in South Asia and Africa that includes a database of standards for menstrual products.
Proudly hosted on the Menstrual Health Hub, users can browse through the different disposable and reusable menstrual product standards available to date.
The systematic lack of menstrual product standards to guarantee consumer safety everywhere is alarming. Menstrual health companies, stakeholders, and even users themselves (at long last!) are keen to improve the sector and promote health, wellbeing and the environment.
As an organization, we at Madami believe that moving forward the discourse on menstrual health requires concerted efforts to improve product education, transparency, and safety across the industry.
Menstrual products are necessities and not luxury goods.
It is time that we see that reflected and acknowledged by regulations to shape this rapidly developing and innovative market.
Women’s and girls’ experiences are still too often informed by the unavailability of menstrual products, lack of accountability on product manufacturers for materials they use in their products compounded by lack of education about reproductive health, and long-lasting stigma and shame.
Ensuring that menstruators everywhere have access to affordable, accessible and appropriate solutions which meet their MH needs is priority number one.
With the increased choices in available menstrual products worldwide, uniform industry standards regarding product characteristics could position new products, strengthen the market, increase product variation in a historically homogeneous market and truly ensure informed choice for all menstruators.
Everyone deserves to have safe products that best suit their menstrual needs!