On menstrual hygiene

– What are you going to do with this, mom?

– Oh, I am just going to need some of these soon. – my mother said vaguely and dumped the huge package on her bed. Then she opened it and took a huge gray sheet out.

– But what is it? – I insisted, watching her folding it in twos and thirds until she had a small rectangle. Then she took another sheet and started folding it too.

– It’s called lignin. – she said briefly. – When you grow up, you are going to need it too.

I was thrilled. I could not wait to grow up and also perform this odd but fascinating ritual of folding. Turned out, I never had to.

In the early 90s menstrual pads were not available in post-socialist Bulgaria. Instead, women bought huge packs of lignin sheets – very similar to toilet paper – at the pharmacy and made their own pads. They were easy accessible, cheap and rather sustainable. Once Western sanitary pads took over the market and became fashionable, thanks to big marketing campaigns, the majority of the women forgot about lignin and the new generations didn’t even know what it was.

I often think about it, when I read about campaings, trying to make menstrual hygiene accessible for everyone. Now don’t get me wrong, menstrual hygiene is not only a matter of human dignity, but also of a general health. However, I think, it is more important to tackle bigger problems, which in return will have a huge social impact. For example:

Feminists in many European and American countries demand sanitary products to be exempt from taxes. I get it. In Germany, it’s 19% of the price and if you start calculating how much money a woman pays only for her tampon taxes in a lifetime, well, it’s a lot. From January 2020, the tax is being reduced to 7%, which is a huge difference. The thing is though, the tax reduction applies to all sanitary products. So what difference will it make? Yes, it will create some fairness, even though women are still going to pay a tax men don’t. And maybe someone is going to buy the more expensive tampons instead of the cheap ones. But that’s all.

However, imagine the impact a tax reduction or even better – a tax exemption could have, if it applied only for eco-friendly products: menstrual cups, sanitary pants, biodegradable tampons and pads. Not only could a lower price make them more attractive to the customer, but also probably more retailers are going to offer more sustainable products – which both in turn could lower the price and have a positive impact on the environment.

In developping countries, the social and environmental impact ot making eco-friendly sanitary products is even bigger: on the one hand, things like menstrual cups and sanitary pants are a lot cheaper in the long run, on the other hand, due to lack of an organised garbage collection in many countries people just burn their garbage, which contributes greatly to greenhouse gas emissions, being also dangerous for humans and environment.

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