2021: A Year in Menstrual Equality Milestones
December 17, 2021 — Team Fempowered

2021. It's safe to say it's been a bit of an odd one.

We had a party-free New Year. Did socially distanced picnics in the cold. And then were fully thrust back into the world of socialising at the start of summer! The last 12 months have been a rollercoaster, that’s for sure. 

Beyond the personal turmoil, there have been some huge moments in the world of period activism too. As you’d probably expect, we’re pretty tapped into the latest news relating to menstrual equality here at Fempowered. And WOW was there a lot of it over the past year. 

Let’s look at the good, the bad and the downright ugly... 

1. Tampon tax was removed in the UK 

via GIPHY

And about time too! 

In January, Team Fempowered celebrated the removal of Tampon Tax here in the UK. Prior to the start of the year, tampons and pads had been taxed at 5%, as they were considered “non-essential” or “luxury” items. 

Thanks to the host of incredible activists who worked to put pressure on the government, period care was finally seen more as healthcare in 2021as what it is: An essential. Tampon tax was removed! And rightfully so. 

The activists that helped to create this change included Scarlet CurtisLaura CorytonJulia CorytonGabby Edlin and Paula Sherriff. 

It is worth noting that period underwear wasn’t taken off the luxury list, though, and continues to be taxed as a non-essential item. So, there’s still work to be done... 

2. Free period products could be the future 

    New Zealand made an exciting move towards eradicating period poverty. As of June 2021, all schools started to offer free period products to students. Scotland, England and some states in the US already had similar measures in place and it’s brilliant to see them rolling out across the globe. 

    Speaking to these changes, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "Young people should not miss out on their education because of something that is a normal part of life for half the population." 

    3. A new definition of menstrual health was born 

    via GIPHY

    Periods are too often overlooked in the world of healthcare. But in 2021, we weren’t having any of it! 

    Alongside the rest of the Global Menstrual Collective, WaterAid contributed to a new definition of the term “Menstrual Health”; one grounded in the WHO’s definition of health more widely. 

    It is: “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle.” This is a huge step in the direction of period equality, as it sets out clear steps for how menstrual health can be reached for everyone, everywhere. 

    Read more about it here

    4. We got periods mansplained to us

      via GIPHY

      Cue some serious eye rolls with this one... 

      Does anybody remember The Pinky Gloves debacle, back in March? 

      That time when three men created pink plastic gloves to be used when removing a tampon? 

      Yikes. 

      Not only did this odd invention feed into the harmful narratives that periods are dirty and something to be ashamed of, but they also promised to increase the use of unrecyclable plastic during menstruation too! All for the bargain price of £12… 

      It’s safe to say that the company got pretty much pulled ripped to shreds on social media.

      5. The fight for period leave continued 

      via GIPHY

      Did you catch our blog post alllll about the pros and cons of period leave? If not, you should definitely check it out once you’ve finished reading this one! 

      On this topic, teachers in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh campaigned this year for three days of menstrual leave each month. They described the long distances that they are forced to travel to schools in areas barely touched reached by public transport, as well as the dirty toilets that they have to use whilst menstruating. This less-than-ideal combination was making working whilst menstruating incredibly difficult for them... to put it mildly. 

      The campaign came after certain private companies in India including Culture Machine, Tata Steel and Zomato announced period leave measures for their female employees.

      6. The Covid vaccine changed periods

         

        via GIPHY

        In September, calls were made to investigate menstrual changes related to the Covid jabs in the UK. 

        There is no evidence that the vaccines can impact fertility nor pregnancy. However, The UK's regulator received more than 30,000 reports of period problems after people received theirs. These included heavier periods, delayed periods and unexpected bleeding. 

        It’s thought that these changes could have been triggered by the impact of the immune system on hormones, which is influenced by the vaccines. 

        Although there is no evidence that these side effects are harmful, the lack of research into the effects of the vaccine on periods prior to their release is yet another instance of period health being swept under the rug.  

        7. Facebook banned periods 

           

          via GIPHY

          Okay… we’re being a bit dramatic there. Facebook didn’t ban periods. But they did ban an advert featuring period blood.  

          In October, a New Zealand-based period underwear company had their marketing material removed from the social media site, as it apparently violated their “shock and scare” policy. We’re not sure what’s shocking OR scary about menstrual blood, but this move sure does show that period taboos are alive and well.

          8. Bolsonaro blocked free tampons and pads 

             

            via GIPHY

            Whilst 2021 saw NZ offer up free menstrual products for young menstruators in schools, Brazil didn’t follow suit. In fact, the call for disadvantaged women and girls to be offered free pads and tampons was completely blocked. 

            President Jair Bolsonaro vetoed the potential bill, in a move which campaigners described as “absurd and inhumane”. Period poverty is a huge issue in the country, with 1 in 4 girls being kept out of school whilst menstruating. As such, this move to decline accessible menstrual care for all was a real disappointment. 

            9. Festivals and periods were put in the spotlight 

            via GIPHY

            There’s little we love more than seeing periods be talked about in the mainstream media. Because nothing contributes to breaking down taboos quite like open dialogue about the varying experiences of menstruation! 

            At the end of this summer, musician Francesca Dimech described to the BBC how she was “panicking” when she realised that she was going to be on her period whilst at a festival. This prompted interviews with festival goers to get their thoughts on how menstruation can impact the festival experience. 

            The discussion truly highlighted the need for festivals (and, well, everywhere!) to have adequate period facilities. It is 2021, after all... 

            10. Toilets led to more inequality

             

            via GIPHY

            Emma Barnett, we applaud you! 

            This year, the brilliant radio host brought attention to the inequalities within toilet designs for those with periods. Whether it’s bins crammed into tight cubicles as an afterthought or frustratingly long lines, many of us have experienced the difficulty of managing menstruation in a public loo. 

            We truly couldn’t be happier to see this conversation being had on such a huge platform!  

            11. Free period products were offered at an unexpected cost in Tokyo

             

            via GIPHY

            A Tokyo-based startup came up with a clever system for offering free menstrual products at no extra cost to the government or individuals. 

            The brand, Oitr, created a machine that dispensed free pads, as long as people watched an advert first! In this way, the cost of a brand having their advertisement on the screen covered the cost of the product to the consumer. 

            Clever stuff, huh? 

            12. Period taboos harmed the planet 

            via GIPHY

            Surprise, surprise...Menstrual taboos are harming people and the world around us yet again! 

            Important research by Mariana Lopez has revealed that taboos could be to blame for the growing environmental crisis in India. According to her work, disposable period products such as synthetic pads and tampons are widely regarded as the only “dignified” way to manage menstruation in the country. However, these are leading to a huge amount of waste with massive environmental consequences, since India doesn’t have a strong waste disposal infrastructure.  

            It’s said that the country could be left with mountains of period waste within 50 years if they don’t prioritise more sustainable options.   

            With the year coming to a close, we think it’s important to reflect on how 2021 impacted menstrual taboos and how we experience periods.

            Whilst we took many steps in the right direction, it’s safe to say we haven’t yet reached our final destination of period equality. So, we hope that you will continue to support us both through our shop and on our socials as we fight to make more progress in 2022. Together.  

            Where we got our insights... 

            BBC: Call for investigation of menstrual changes after Covid jabs 

            BBC: Festivals: Period facilities are needed at live events 

            BBC: India teachers’ fight for period leave gathers steam 

            BBC: ​​Period poverty: New Zealand schools to offer free sanitary products  

            Huffington Post: 3 Guys Created A Pink Glove For Disposing Tampons. Give Us Strength 

            Stuff: Facebook bans NZ period underwear ad over use of real blood   

            Stylist: Emma Barnett just sparked a very important debate about toilets 

            The Conversation: Taboos around menstruation are leading to a growing environmental crisis in India 

            The Guardian: Bolsonaro blocks free tampons and pads for disadvantaged women in Brazil 

            TimeOut: A Tokyo startup has created a system to provide free sanitary pads 

            WaterAid: ​​New definition of Menstrual Health set to galvanise action to meet the needs of people who menstruate