Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

From Innovation to Policy, Menstruation is Red Hot in Kenya

October 29th, 2015 by Editor

Guest Post by Danielle Keiser, WASH United

*WASH_logo_glowWASH United, initiator of Menstrual Hygiene Day, has been working closely with the Kenyan government and local NGOs to establish a national policy around Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM).

Today we sat down with the team at WASH United Africa in Nairobi, Kenya–Beverly Mademba, WASH in Schools Programs Manager, Alfred Muli, Program & Research Associate, and Winnie Nyabenge, Program Associate–who have been coordinating the national effort, to learn about how policy change in the menstrual hygiene management (MHM) sector can be achieved. Here’s what they told us.

It seems like menstruation is a really hot issue in Kenya right now. Why do you suppose the issue is now gaining more attention than ever before? 

Yes, you’re right! Menstruation is actually red hot in Kenya for a number of reasons.

First, the interest and demand for the issue is enormous! With more and more data finally surfacing detailing the wide-ranging negative impacts of poor MHM, many people are responding with interventions and solutions in Kenya–and beyond. At the beginning, the majority of the NGOs working in MHM came from the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector. Now, people and organizations interested in advancing education, health, human rights, child protection and other sectors are getting involved. Even private social businesses want to help tackle the issue by bringing innovative MHM products to the market! It’s actually quite noticeable just how much MHM has grown in the last years, both in terms of work and media attention on the issue. Instead of just WASH, MHM is now being tackled from many different perspectives by many different organisations.

Secondly, the increased campaigning and advocacy surrounding Menstrual Hygiene Day has really had a huge impact on drawing attention to the issue. Two contributing factors include the fact that we at WASH United are the initiators and drivers of Menstrual Hygiene Day and have our African office (and our great team!) in Kenya.

Lastly and most importantly, the Kenyan Ministry of Health has taken an impressive leadership role in driving the issue and has done an excellent job of coordinating stakeholders, particularly in the WASH sector.

Hope Alive Girls Empowerment Project, Kenya

Hope Alive Girls Empowerment Project, Kenya

What are the key priorities of the proposed MHM policy in Kenya (education, product access, environmental issues, health, etc.?) and how will the policy be implemented? 

Seeing as how MHM is an issue that cuts across different sectors, it is absolutely vital that the concerns of all the key stakeholders are considered. This means not only ensuring adequate sanitation and hygiene infrastructure and the affordability and accessibility of menstrual materials, but also providing education, information and addressing cultural barriers to improving MHM, such as myths and taboos. It also means taking into account the importance of behavior change around hygiene and disposal. The obvious target for the MHM policy are schools, but we are also trying to push the policy agenda to institutions (i.e., prisons, hospitals, etc.) as well to help ensure that it benefits as many women and girls in Kenya as possible.

Therefore the key priorities of the MHM policy are as follows:

  1. Defining safety and quality standards for reusable products
  2. Provision for management of MHM waste
  3. Defining minimum standards for MHM programming (for both infrastructure and behavior change interventions)
  4. Ensuring relevant reproductive health education
  5. Mainstreaming MHM into monitoring and evaluation
  6. Engaging the corporate sector to address the safety of their menstrual hygiene products; encouraging them to market their products responsibly and with “period positivity”

After the policy is finalized on a national level, the critical part is the contextualizing and institutionalizing of the policy in the 47 counties within Kenya to ensure real impact on the ground. This means conducting in-depth situational analyses to truly understand the specific issues in each county, as well addressing the needs and capacity requirements of the local governments.

How have you built relationships with others to advance the initiative? Who have been the most valuable partners? 

We’ve built relationships in two ways: 1.) Through national thematic technical working groups (TWGs), such as the hygiene promotion TWG, the school WASH TWG and the policy and research TWG just to name a few. 2).  Menstrual Hygiene Day has allowed us to collaborate with new partners both inside and outside the WASH sector giving us the opportunity to form strong coalitions that continue to garner media attention and influence local and national governments.

Besides this, we’ve been in constant dialogue with interest groups including academia, manufacturers, corporate entities and relevant government agencies.

All partners are equally valuable, representing their different interests. Key players at least working on the policy have been WASH United, Kenya Water for Health Organization (KWAHO), WASH Alliance Kenya (WAK), PATH, UNICEF, Transformation Textiles, ZANA Africa, I-CARE, Saidia Dada and networks such as KEWASNET. However, we must really commend the Ministry of Health for the amazing work they have done in coordinating us all.

If menstrual education is a component, what are the barriers to establishing a nation-wide educational initiative of this sort? Have there been any particular surprises or unanticipated blocks?

Great question. Currently the curriculum teaches about anatomy and the biological processes that occur during puberty. It does not, however, dive into hygienic management of the period, sanitary disposal of used products, and the facts vs. myths that surround menstruation.

The 1970s and the Menstrual Dance: Naturally … a Girl

September 10th, 2015 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

“Menstruation is just one routine step in a normal and natural cycle that is going on continuously in the body,” says the female narrator of the 1946 film by Walt Disney called The Story of Menstruation. “There’s nothing strange nor mysterious about menstruation. All life is built on cycles, and the menstrual cycle is one normal and natural part of nature’s eternal plan for passing on the gift of life.” That film is believed to be the first in the United States to discuss openly the female body and the process of menstruation, including the first film to use the word vagina. In this blog I will focus on one particular menstrual education film, Naturally … a Girl, to explore how it differed from previous other prominent films.

Naturally … a Girl, released in 1973 and produced by the Personal Products Company (Modess—the same makers involved in Molly Grows Up), presents a playful, colorful, and a new technique not seen in menstrual education films before: the interview.  While an authority figure is present throughout the thirteen minute film, she only performs as a guide to keep structure in the film and provide the basic biological information. It is the numerous interviews—with racially diverse girls from pre-period to those menstruating for over six years—that execute the reliability factor so important in advertising.

Throughout the film young girls are shown dancing in brightly-colored tights and leotards against a black screen. Sometimes there is a single girl dancing and other times there is a group of young women, and in all instances the dancing creates a sense of voyeurism that the girls are there to perform for the audience’s eye—whether they know the audience is watching or not is never fully revealed. The girls are all said to be twelve years old and are in varying stages of physical development. Some still possess the more square shape of a young child while others have fuller breasts and wider hips. The camera is above the girls and looks down as they lie on the black background, thus giving the viewer a shot of the girls’ entire bodies. The allure of this shot is created through a sense of scopophilic eroticism at the girls as the audience voyeuristically gazes at them moving their bodies in a tight space and close to each other.

As with the menstrual education films before it, Naturally … a Girl has an omnipresent authority figure who works as a narrator and makes an appearance at the end of the film noting how lucky she feels to be a woman. Employing montages the film narrativized the notion that all girls are different yet experience the same problems and concerns growing up. Doing so deletes the need to break the fourth wall, as with Molly Grows Up and As Boys Grow, since the numerous faces and distinctive interviews form a feeling of relatability by difference. While this creates a viewer interest it does not necessarily promote any involvement on the part of the audience. To solve this the film utilizes questions throughout; basically the film functions as a pop quiz for the audience members by asking them questions, often with multiple choice answers, and a brief moment to answer.

Overall, though, the film better encapsulates women as multifaceted beings than its predecessors. By the end of the film the narrator is introduced as a woman who, as she says, used to dream of acting and is now an actress. She reassures the audience that being is better than dreaming and what follows is a montage of working women: nurses, teachers, police officers, flight attendants, lineworkers, and mothers. The last line of the film sums up the film’s overall message from a young girl (still missing teeth) who concludes that being a woman “is better than being a boy.”

Saniya Lee Ghanoui is a PhD student in media history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her dissertation looks at the history of sex education films in the United States and Sweden.

Menstrual Potpourri: Blood, mucus, art, poetry, identity, and protection

May 25th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

Two concurrent sessions continue the menstrual exploration with imagination and practicality on Saturday, June 6th at  at the 21st Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research at The Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, June 4-6, 2015, Suffolk University, Boston.


Imagining Blood:

Special Edition Playtex by Danielle Hogan, 2006. Used with permission.

Menstrual Heterotopias in Spatial Art Practice
Ruth Green-Cole, NorthTec & Victoria University of Wellington

Menstruation is a significant marker of sexual difference; it is ‘gendered blood’ that divides and distinguishes women, and that has made them in many cases by association, the ‘subjects’ of taboo. The contemporary spatial artworks I present are instrumental in undermining this stigma and bring about changes in what we assume to be the function and value of art.

Image credit: Danielle Hogan
Special Edition Playtex, 2006
(from the Value Added series 2003-2006)
Collection of the Artist
Artist website: Danielle Carla Hogan

Blood For Thought: A closer look on contemporary conceptualization of menstruation
Anna Krol, Purchase College

What does it mean to menstruate in our culture? What is said (and not said) about bodies in relation to the conceptualization of periods in Western culture reveals deeper layers of sociopolitical fears and imperatives that involve challenges to traditional, authoritative, privileged-based reason prescribed to all for and by the privileged.

Mucus: The other taboo fluid
Lisa Leger, Justisse Healthworks for Women

While making menstruation matter at #SMCR2013, Lisa Leger asked “Where’s the Blood?” in pop culture’s sexy vampire stories. At this year’s conference, she explores “Where’s the Mucus?” in any form of entertainment or even sex ed. We rarely see references to menstrual blood in stories about women. Cervical mucus is mentioned even less. Our culture’s squeamishness causes an unfair knowledge gap. Let’s decode the mysteries of the mucus. Reproductive justice includes awareness, understanding and acceptance of cervical mucus as a normal, healthy part of female reproductive health.


Social Context and Identity:

You Menstrual Me
Emily Graves, Louisiana State University 

In a series of 26 very short, original poems written in the second person, I represent discourses of menstruation through aesthetic performance. Calling on the corporeal body to translate poetic expression from the page to the stage, the performance pursues the meeting of embodied language and language about bodies.

Between weirdness & empowerment: How social class shapes girls’ experiences of menarche and the female body
Theresa E. Jackson, Northeastern University

This qualitative study investigates how girls from diverse social locations make meaning out menarche and their changing bodies. Results indicate that all girls appropriate messages of shame related to menstruation. Discussions of the female body diverged according to social class where working-class participants highlighted vulnerability and middle-class participants acknowledged empowerment.

The optimal choice for menstrual protection for women: Reflections of MHM campaigners of MITU, an NGO, based on their experiences of three years in Rural Karnataka India
Kala Charlu, Multiple Initiatives Towards Upliftment

This paper presents findings from a Bangalore based organisation, MITU (Multiple Initiatives Towards Upliftment) on what are the right alternatives for protection during menstruation based on the last three years’ work with over 5000 under-privileged girls and women in Bangalore and Rural Karnataka. Conflicting objectives like health, hygiene, convenience, affordability and Eco-friendliness have made us ponder over the right way forward in this continuously evolving scenario.

Looking back, looking ahead: Two NGOs in India collaborate in a sanitary napkin user trial and critically examine their field interventions
Lakshmi Murthy, Industrial Design Centre, Indian Institute of Technology & Kala Charlu, Multiple Initiatives Towards Upliftment 

Collaborative reflective studies in the area of menstruation were conducted by two NGOs in culturally diverse rural locations in India. In Study 1, 50 users compared two menstrual products. In Study 2, we interviewed 60 users to assess effectiveness of NGO interventions. Results helped both NGOs to redesign future goals.

Media Release and Registration for the SMCR Boston Conference on Menstrual Health and Reproductive Justice: Human Rights Across the Lifespan.

Menstrual Hygiene Day: What’s in a name? Why Menstrual Hygiene Day is called Menstrual Hygiene Day

May 27th, 2014 by Saniya Lee Ghanoui

Guest post by Danielle Keiser

Summary: Menstrual Hygiene Day is not only about the biological process of growing up into a woman, but also about addressing the challenges that exist in many developing countries with regards to managing menstruation safely and hygienically. Such challenges include potential vaginal infections caused by poor access to soap and water and toilets, inadequate or unhygienic sanitary protection materials, or infrequent cleaning or changing of these materials. In many cases, this results in adolescent girls missing school and women missing work. Moreover, the continued silence around menstruation paired with limited access to factual guidance at home and in schools results in millions of women and girls having very little knowledge about what is happening to their bodies when they menstruate and how to deal with it.

Is ‘hygiene’ a negative word?

Menstrual Hygiene Day, oh, be some other name! As Juliet famously said about a rose with regards to Romeo being a Montague, what is in a name? That which we call hygiene by any other name would still be (according to the Oxford Dictionary) “the conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease, especially through cleanliness”, would it not?

Since we launched the initiative to make the 28th of May Menstrual Hygiene Day, we at WASH United have undoubtedly started the conversation about menstruation, with social media buzzing as to why #MenstruationMattersand worldwide events and activities set to take place by many of our 135 partner organizations. One recurring conversation has revolved around disagreement with the term ‘hygiene’, a term that has been criticized for not being ‘period positive’ and doing little to ‘honor the menstrual process’.

I’d like to take the time to explain why we chose the word hygiene, focusing on how optimal Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) conditions, or more specifically, access to clean water and soap, toilets, sanitary protection materials and factual guidance are prerequisites to enabling women and girls to embrace their periods and feel positive about the whole experience. When menstruation is managed in privacy, with safety and dignity, women and girls are much more likely to develop the comfort and confidence needed to participate in daily activities. And since all human rights stem from the fundamental right to human dignity, when women and girls are forced into seclusion, taunted and teased, or fear leaking due to inadequate menstrual hygiene management (MHM), dignity is difficult to maintain.


4 reinforcing thoughts: It’s about hygiene.

1. Imagine that while menstruating, you are either not allowed to bathe or you simply don’t have a shower to rinse your body.

In parts of Kashmir, India, some menstruating women are prohibited from using water sources and advised to stay away from flowing water in general. Also, they are not allowed to look at their reflections in the water.

2. Imagine unexpectedly starting your period in the middle of an important math lesson. Is your first thought, I need to go to the toilet? Do you go to the one dirty latrine that is shared with 65 other boys and girls, without a lock? And what will you do with your stained panties? There’s no hand-washing facility and not even a wastebasket to throw them away in.

There are still 2.5 billion people who do not have access to adequate sanitation. If roughly half of the world’s population is female, that’s 1.25 billion girls and women who cannot simply ‘go to the ladies’ room’ to check on themselves and change their pad, tampon or cup in privacy.

3. Imagine having no idea, or a very faint one, about what a period is, why it happens, or how to take care of it when it happens.

Worldwide, many girls feel a ‘culture of silence’ around menstruation, including in their families. Often, male family members are clueless about menstruation, treating it as something negative or a curse. Girls do not feel comfortable even talking to their mothers about the subject, and many teachers only skim the surface on lessons about puberty and reproduction because it makes them uncomfortable.

4. Imagine that you didn’t bring any pads/cloth to absorb the blood that is now running down your leg, either because pads/cloth are difficult to find in your village or you and your family have no money to pay for them.

Only 12% of girls and women in India have access to sanitary materials, a report by AC Nielsen and Plan India found in 2010. The rest tend to rely on old pieces of cloth, husks, dried leaves and grass, ash, sand or newspapers.

MH Day partners come together in Bangalore to break the silence and challenge traditional menstrual myths at a May 24th rally.

A menstrual movement defined

We acknowledge, admire and personally support feminist-leaning perspectives on menstruation, such as Gloria Steinem’s views and websites like Occupy Menstruation that encourage women and girls to get in touch with their natural cycles, feel empowered and take pride in womanhood. This is absolutely necessary.

How do girls learn about periods?

May 1st, 2013 by Laura Wershler

How do girls learn about menstruation today? Who talks to them? Who do they talk to? Or do most girls rely on the Internet for information about periods?

Take this article by Elizabeth (bylines are first names only) – What I Wish I Knew About My Period – posted last week at Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls. Not a teenager but definitely a young woman, Elizabeth (Spiridakus) shares the wisdom she’s gained through her menstrual experience. Here’s her sum-up:

These are all the things I wish someone had told me before I got my first period, and in the couple of years that followed. Most of all, I wish I had FOUND SOMEONE TO TALK TO! I had so many questions and fears about the whole business, and I think I would have been so much less self-conscious, and so much HAPPIER, if I had only had access to some friendly advice. So, talk to your friends! Talk to your cool older cousin or aunt or sister or your best friend’s cool mom or your OWN cool mom. Leave your questions—and your good advice—in the comments, because I certainly haven’t been able to cover all the bases here.

Read this again: “Most of all, I wish I had FOUND SOMEONE TO TALK TO!”

Photo courtesy of Laura Wershler

Elizabeth urges readers to talk to their friends, cool older relatives, or their own – or somebody else’s – “cool mom.” Great advice, but I have to ask:  Why aren’t cool moms and older relatives already talking to the girls in their lives about menstruation? Sharing friendly advice? Passing on wisdom from mother to daughter, woman to woman?

Suzan Hutchinson, menstrual activist, educator and founder of, a project dedicated to empowering girls and women to embrace the taboo subject of menstruation, has a few ideas about this. She thinks many moms don’t know when to begin “the period talk” or what to say, so they remain silent until their daughters start their periods, or they wait thinking their daughters will initiate period talk. She warns against this.

“We should all remember that when moms offer too little information or start providing information too late, girls often question their credibility and hesitate to return as new questions arise.”

Although Suzan’s mother talked to her about menstruation, she didn’t start early enough, before Suzan heard things from other girls that she didn’t understand. Her early menstrual experience included lying to her friends about getting her period long before she did at age 15. By then she was “too embarrassed to ask my much more experienced friends” and “too proud to turn to Mom.” She tried to deal with things on her own.

“I needed a period coach – someone to walk through things with me and instruct me…help me figure out what to do, when to do, how to do.”

A period coach. This is exactly what Elizabeth is for the girls at RookieRead the comments. Readers loved it.

She’s not the only one using the Internet to connect with girls about menstruation. Despite my reservations about a website operated by the company that sells Always and Tampax, the content of which deserves serious critique, I must acknowledge that thousands of girls are turning to for period coaching, including tips on how to talk to their moms!

Moms shouldn’t be waiting for their daughters to talk to them. They need to find their own period coaches. Other mothers like Suzan Hutchinson and the mom who started

The more information girls have the better. Brava to Elizabeth for What I Wish I Knew About My Period. But moms and cool older relatives have got to get in the game. Now. Don’t wait until the girls in your life come to you.

What I told the girl in my life about menstruation

December 22nd, 2011 by Alexandra Jacoby

Last month I wrote about what I would tell the ten-year-old girl in my life about menstruation. This would be my first conversation about it with her.

I really appreciated the supportive responses that I received in the comments and offline! 
I was nervous about it. Your participation helped me to move forward.

Some of you asked me to tell you how it went…

I’m not going to.

Maybe it went well. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe it was a long talk, and kind of delicious to get that time with her, or maybe it ended abruptly. Maybe we hugged, suffered long silences, or laughed each other silly. Maybe I drew diagrams and she was the art director. Maybe she’s avoiding me now.

It doesn’t matter.

Because the point is – even more than to start talking – to keep talking. Not to look for done. Not to hope for done.

Just to say what you have to say; ask questions, reveal what matters to you, and stay.

Knowing that it’s not over. If it didn’t go “well”, that’s just a moment in time.

Remember why you wanted to have this talk – why you wanted her to have this information – why you wanted her to trust you with her questions and opinions.

If it went well, that’s just a moment in time. You don’t know what will happen next.

Her body-experiences, social experiences, ideas, needs and wants are going to change change change.

Done doesn’t exist in our world of human bodies.

Maybe I gave a really “good” talk and it still sucked for her. Maybe my girl’s poised reception of my seriously-delivered speech is not a possibility for either of you. Don’t worry about that.

I’m not telling you how it went because I don’t want our story leading to dos and don’ts, cues to take, and pitfalls to avoid. All that is useful, but I want to stay general for a moment, and, in the absence of specifics, to appreciate on the ongoing, evolving nature of

talking about, 
and being, 
a human body.

what to tell the girl in my life about menstruation?

November 24th, 2011 by Alexandra Jacoby

Ever since I saw this uterus pillow, I have been thinking about what to tell the girl in my life about menstruation. She’s ten years old. This pillow is exactly something I would give her! It’s handmade, using strong colors of the kind I like, and about a subject most people don’t want to talk about. [I like to annoy her!] Also, it’s pretty.

I’ve had it since the summer, and I still haven’t given it to her — because I want to say something with it.

uterus pillow - ovulating

uterus pillow by Wendy Caesar.

But – what?

I have no idea what she knows or thinks or feels about her body in general, or about menstruation in particular.

Where do I start?

[translate that to several months of procrastination]

Telling myself that it was research and preparation for a good talk, I started asking people what they think I should say to a ten-year old girl in my life. Most asked me if it wasn’t too early to start this topic? I mean if she isn’t menstruating yet…

why bring it up?

Her school will know when to start the conversation. Or maybe leave it up to her, to whenever she asks you…

She’ll ask her mother then probably. Or maybe her mother has already started this conversation….

Wait! None of that matters —

I am totally ducking. I am afraid to get it wrong.

How will she know that conversations are not tests, or competitions, if I keep acting like there’s a right way to do this— like I need training, expertise or approval to talk to the girl in my life about something that I have experienced myself for several of her lifetimes?

I want her to know that it’s ok to not-know EVERYTHING about your body and what comes next, and that it’s ok to ask questions from a place of not-knowing.

Right. Decision made. I will not become an expert before talking with her.

I’ll make this about her and about me.

Here’s what I’ll do:

I’ll ask her what she’s heard so far:

  • What do you know about menstruation?
  • What did your mother tell you?
  • School?
  • Friends?
  • Female relatives?
  • Your father?

I’ll check in with her:

  • What does it feel like? – What people told you —
  • Is it: scary, embarrassing, no big deal, exciting…

I’ll tell her why I brought this up:

The menstrual cycle is not just about bleeding and whether you can get pregnant today — though, those two situations are reason enough to learn as much as you can about your cycle. You want to be prepared for, and satisfied with, both experiences.

uterus pillow - menstruating

the same uterus pillow, by Wendy Caesar.

The menstrual cycle is one of your body’s vital signs.

Its hormones and processes affect and interact with how you feel, how your bones grow, how your skin looks, your body temperature… From the inside out, of your body-your home, your cycle determines your quality of life in many ways.

Most of us know little about how our bodies work. And, unless we feel pain, have difficulty doing something we want to do, or are incapacitated, we don’t necessarily need to know any more than the little we know.

But — and this is why I bring it up — the more you do know about how it works, the more power you have over the quality of your body-life, which in turn feeds your mental-spiritual-emotional life. And back around again.

I bring up the menstrual cycle because its integral to the workings of a woman’s body and while there are ranges of normal — day to day, it’s a unique experience for each of us.

I want her to be aware of that, and to begin paying attention to her body because it’s her body. Not just when it raised an issue that needs a response, like what to do about the blood.

I’ll end with:

Many of us were raised not to think about, or talk about, or bodies, to keep it clean down there and move on. It was as if your body was this separate thing you control. That is not what I want for you.

I want you to actively take care of yourself, to pursue information, the help and know-how of others whenever you need it, and to evaluate for yourself how “true” or relevant what they have to say is for you. And, I think that if I start this conversation with you now, rather than once it happens, the seed will be planted in terms of your body-life, not just within the scope of bleeding and pregnancy, neither of which mean much to you before you’re crossing that threshold.

It’s your body.

You will know it better than anyone just by paying attention to your experience.

Is there anything you want to ask or tell me?

…Fine. I think I am ready now. I’ve stopped wondering how it will go. I’ve let go (somewhat) of wanting to get this right.

What I want for her, for every girl is:

  • that she have confidence in herself, her ideas, questions, preferences, fears and desires

“It means there’s blood flowing out of my uterus!”

November 4th, 2011 by Elizabeth Kissling

So says 15-year-old Judy to her boyfriend Johnny on the occasion of her first period, in this vintage film about menstruation, Linda’s Film About Menstruation. This 18-minute treasure was produced in 1974 by the Creative Artists Public Service Program of the New York State Council of the Arts (CAPS), a program that ran from 1970 to 1981.

Would that cities and states still had arts budgets for these kinds of projects!

World Menopause Day

October 25th, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

We’re a week late in commemorating World Menopause Day here at re:Cycling. Sounds like a holiday right up there with Menstrual Monday, but it doesn’t sound very celebratory, from what I can discern.

I discovered World Menopause Day, observed annually on October 18, when a press release for GEM Keep it cool™, “the first ever, ready to drink wellness supplement for menopause relief made with natural and nature-identical ingredients free of the risks associated with hormones” showed up in my inbox yesterday. Cynic that I am, I wondered if this holiday was simply about selling products to middle-aged women, so I began poking around on the internetz.

I found that World Menopause Day has a venerable history: it was started in 1984 by the International Menopause Society (IMS) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Both are reputable, credible organizations with admirable goals, so I was easily persuaded that World Menopause Day isn’t all about marketing. IMS marks World Menopause Day by doing its best to spread the word about potential health consequences of menopause:

In observation of the day, the IMS, through its organ the Council of Affiliated Menopause Societies, distributes sample press materials to inform women about menopause, its management and the impact of estrogen loss. World Menopause Day can also be a call to implement policies that support research and treatment in the area of menopausal health.

As the world’s population ages, there will be increasing numbers of women entering menopause and living beyond postmenopause. The potential symptoms of menopause may have a negative impact on the quality of daily life. Moreover, the consequences of menopause can lead to a host of age-related diseases including heart disease and osteoporosis. Nations around the world should continue to educate women about menopause and the benefits of preventive health care.

The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) offers similar party plans:

The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), in conjunction with The International Menopause Society, recognizes October 18 as World Menopause Day. This important day is acknowledged by the organization as the day when all nations should take active steps to educate women about the health-related implications of menopause.

I grok that many women, probably even a statistical majority, experience some unpleasant symptoms during the menopausal transition. And I know that the Baby Boom generation thinks no one ever experienced menopause before (just like they were the first to experience adolescence, sex, parenthood, and other milestones), but why does all of the acknowledgment of menopause and education about it have to be so clinical? Not to mention so sad. Menopause is not a disease. It’s a natural phase of adult women’s lives, and I’m really hoping it comes with some benefits. (For instance, I’m looking forward to being a wise old crone, esteemed by my community. Being a smart-assed young woman and now, middle-aged woman, hasn’t won me as much esteem as you might think.)

7dwarves_menopI’m tired of seeing menopause represented as abject misery. I was especially distressed to see one blog marking World Menopause Day with this illustration of the Seven Dwarves of Menopause. It’s another pathetic example of propagating the idea that women are ruled by their hormones, which are always destructive. There’s clearly a lot of education to be done about menopause, hence the need for World Menopause Day, but also a need to find ways to celebrate aging.

To learn about official Society for Menstrual Cycle Research views of menopause, read our Testimony to Office of Research on Women’s Health at NIH [2009] and our Position Statement on the Women’s Health Initiative & Estrogen Therapy [2007].

“Happy It’s Here”

October 16th, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

P&G_WhisperProctor and Gamble has just launched a new internet campaign in Singapore for their menstrual pads. The flash-heavy website tells why girls are Happy It’s Here :

Happy, confident, and loving life. You know what you want and where you want to go next. You feel wonderful about being a girl!

This is not a new product, but a new campaign for the pads known as “Always” in the U.S. Guess what they’re called in Asian markets.

Wait for it.


That’s right. P&G’s ad promotion “to instill a positive attitude in young Singaporean women about their menstrual periods, seeking to dispel some of the squeamishness toward the subject that persists in much of Asia” is for a product called Whisper, with all the connotations of menstrual silence that carries.

In fairness to P&G, the name change from the U.S. product pre-dates the new internet campaign by ten years. And I wanted to give them a break after reading this quote in the Wall Street Journal article about the new campaign:

“We see our role as being over and beyond just selling the products,” says Sujay Wasan, associate marketing director for P&G’s feminine-care division in Asia. “Periods are not a necessary evil, or a curse, or a problem to be solved. It’s an absolutely natural part of being a woman, and it needs to be appreciated and celebrated,” he said.

But then I finally figured out how to turn off the site’s annoying music (yeah, I’m not really their target audience) and started poking around. I saw the links for “about your period” and “28-day cycle” and assumed P&G was serious about trying to do a little menstrual education here. So I clicked on the 28-day cycle link from the menu, and pretended today was the first day of my cycle so that I could check it out. I read, “Day 1: During your period you may feel thinner. That’s because your body may burn carbs better. Tip: Show off your figure at the gym, beach or by the pool!”

Now, on the one hand, I’m glad to see some recognition that bleeding isn’t the only thing happening during menstruation and acknowledgment that the menstrual cycle is not a bodily process isolated in the uterus and vagina. But advice to young women to practice being a sex object really grates my cheese. And it only continues: on Day 2, I’m told that since I’m burning up those carbs and feeling so thin, I should put on some hip-hugging jeans. Day 5, I’m told that I’m unlikely to feel jealous, so I should let my boyfriend have a guy’s night out. Heterosexist, much?

It goes on and on, with descriptions of the cycle in terms of emotional experience rather than physiological processes, and even though there’s a caveat at the beginning of the calendar that every girl is different, it offers mighty presumptive advice for dealing with these emotional changes. Happy It’s Here assumes that all girls are heterosexual and aspire to be paragons of femininity, as defined by the beauty product industry and other handmaidens of the patriarchy (yes, I’m using the p-word).

It also overemphasizes emotional element of the menstrual cycle, at the expense of knowledge about the physiology and anatomy of menstruation.The only mention of hormones comes on Day 15: “Estrogen is low and that nasty progesterone kicks in. Brace yourself for mood swings, irritability and bloating.” Oh, that nasty progesterone! If only it weren’t essential for fertility, a functional uterus, and bone health.

Sorry, P&G. I know you’ve been working on normalizing menstruation in your marketing campaigns, but this isn’t helping.

[H/T GladRags]

Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.