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Water & Sanitation

Blood, Sweat, and Cheers: 2017 Was the Year of the Period Thanks to These Activists

With millions of women making their voices heard in the streets, on social media, and in the halls of government, it’s no wonder the world achieved so much progress in the realm of menstruation in 2017.

For millennia, various societies have branded periods as unclean — or even toxic — and exploited these taboos to subjugate or isolate women. But people are changing that dynamic.

Throughout the year, pop culture stars, tireless lawmakers, and powerful activists took on period stigma in an effort to normalize menstruation and empower women around the world.

Take Action: #ItsBloodyTime World Leaders Prioritize Menstrual Hygiene for Girls’ Education

These champions also confronted the dark side of period stigma, especially among poor women and girls for whom having their period means skipping school, experiencing isolation, and even facing violence and rape.

Global Citizen shares their commitment and campaigns on ensuring access to pads, tampons, and other menstrual health resources for every girl and women in the world. You can take action here.

From flipping the script on corny TV commercials to abolishing ridiculous ‘tampon taxes,’ 2017 was the year these courageous activists, bold brands, and forward-thinking governments shredded period taboos like the fluffy guts of a sanitary pad.

1// This Pad Ad Finally Showed Period Blood

For years, commercials for period products never actually showed blood. Instead, actors poured a sterile, blue, detergent-like liquid on top of the sanitary pads to demonstrate their amazing absorbent qualities.

In 2017, however. menstrual hygiene company Bodyform finally shook up the tired ad narrative and showed us what period blood actually looks like when it hits a sanitary pad or trickles down a woman’s leg in the shower.

“Contrary to popular belief, women don’t bleed blue liquid, they bleed blood,” Bodyform wrote on their YouTube channel. “Periods are normal. Showing them should be too.”

2// An NFL Star is Tackling Period Stigma — And Helping Homeless Women

As an offensive lineman for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, Joshua Garnett thrives in one of the most macho cultures in the US, but he has used his platform — and his cleats — to tackle an issue that doesn’t often make it to the gridiron: the stigma surrounding periods and menstrual hygiene.

Read More: This NFL Star is Tackling Period Stigma — And Helping Homeless Women

Garnett’s sister Rachel founded the organization Kitty Packs, which supplies sanitary pads to women in New York City’s homeless shelters, and Garnett used the NFL’s annual “ My Cause, My Cleats ” day to showcase the organization. His cleats bore the Kitty Packs logo as part of his effort to normalize menstruation among his male peers and to ensure all women access safe hygiene products.

3// This Group Designed A Few Awesome Period Emojis

Around the world, girls and women chatting about menstruation on WhatsApp and iMessage have commandeered a creative array of emojis to reference their periods.

There’s the wine glass full of red liquid. The crimson sphere. The lava-spitting volcano. Even the wild boar.


That’s because, as anyone who has texted a classmate or colleague looking for an extra tampon knows, no emoji explicitly refers to menstruation. But one organization is trying to change that.

In June, Plan International unveiled five emojis — a blood-stained pad, female reproductive organs, white panties with two drops of blood, a calendar page marked with blood, and three blood droplets who express varying emotions — and encouraged social media visitors to pick a winner.

After more than 54,000 total votes, the public selected the panties with blood droplets and Plan International sent the image to the Unicode Consortium, a California-based company charged with making sure symbols work across devices and countries. The Consortium considers all emoji submissions and decides which ones appear on your iPhone or Android.

Read More: 10 Myths About Periods

The Consortium has not yet approved the submission, but Plan International has brought the world one step closer to the emoji our smartphones deserve.

4// An Indian Media Company Offers Paid Menstrual Leave to Its Employees

Traditionally, periods have forced women to skip school or work because they face stigma or lack access to sanitation and hygiene. But at Culture Machine, a media company in India, women are able to miss work to more comfortably manage the pain and cramps associated with menstruation.

The company says the move protects women’s health and enables them to be more productive the rest of the week.

Read More: This Company in India Is Offering Paid Menstrual Leave, and Its Employees Are Loving It

“It’s only right that we provide the women who work with us with a supportive work environment and considerate policies,” said Culture Machine’s Human Resources Chief Devleena S. Majumdar.

5// Bollywood’s ‘Padman’ — and Its Pad-Wearing A-List Star — Upend Stigmas on the Big Screen  

Despite significant gains in menstrual hygiene education and access to sanitary pads across India, about 300 million women use rags instead of sanitary pads and about 20% of adolescent girls drop out of school because they lack access to clean, private facilities to manage their periods

A new film about a real-life social activist who developed a low-cost sanitary pad for poor Indian women is hoping to flip the script. “Padman” stars Bollywood icon Akshay Kumar and critics expect the film to attract big audiences.

Read More: Bollywood Star Wears a Sanitary Pad in New Film

"I am hopeful that something that has been hidden in the darkness ... will finally be in the spotlight so that a young girl can go up to her parents and say that she needs sanitary pads," producer Twinkle Khanna, who wrote a book about the real Padman on which the film is based, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

6// African Governments Are Making Sanitary Pads Free For Their Citizens

This year, Botswana,Zambia and Uganda all recognized that period management affects girls’ education and thus the productivity of their countries’ economies. Each country pledged to make sanitary pads free for girls, joining Kenya, which passed a law to provide universal access to sanitary pads in June, in their commitment menstrual hygiene.

While the commitments have encouraged women’s rights advocates, the four countries still face several challenges in implementing the programs and providing pads to girls, especially in poor, rural communities.  

That’s why:

7// Global Citizens Throughout Africa Are Toppling Taboos and Ensuring Girls Get Sanitary Pads

Libraries are few and far between in Nigeria and sanitary pads are often too expensive for schoolgirls to afford, which forces them to skip school or drop out all together when they have their periods. The organization Hope and Dreams Initiative has begun tackling both issues at the same time, opening nine “WASH libraries,” and constructing three more, in schools around the country.

The libraries teach kids to read, wash their hands and manage their periods. Posters of proper handwashing behaviors adorn the walls and the founder Nguzo Ogbodo supplies girls with sanitary pads, along with copies of her favorite Babysitters’ Club books.

In Uganda, the movement #PadsForGirlsUg distributes hygiene products to girls around the country and has called on the president to fulfill a promise to give all schoolgirls sanitary pads. The passionate activism led to the arrest of a leading advocate, but the movement persisted.

Read More: These Girls Are Sewing Re-Usable Period Pads to Keep Girls in School

Meanwhile in Malawi, girls and boys are stitching handmade pads in afterschool programs and in Kenya, the organization ZanaAfrica has provided reproductive health education and sanitary pads to 30,000 girls.

ZanaAfrica’s founder Megan Mukuria said her work with homeless Kenyan children revealed how the lack of sanitary pads and health education plague poor girls.

“I saw an opportunity for street children to excel if given the right support,” she told Global Citizen in October. “I [also] saw the inability of adults to give honest answers to girls’ questions. There is a vulnerability in girls’ lives due to ignorance and not getting those answers.”

8// Massive Grocers Ate the Cost of the ‘Tampon Tax’ for UK Women

Last year, the UK voted to repeal the 5% value added tax on sanitary pads and tampons starting in 2018, but the decision still meant that women had to pay the tax for another year. Recognizing the burden on low-income women and girls, Tesco and Waitrose, two of the UK’s largest supermarket, stepped up and agreed to pay the tax themselves.

Activists around UK applauded the move by the mega-chains.

“Tesco’s new period scheme is a bold and brave one,” activist Laura Coryton said. “Reducing their period products by 5% to cover tampon tax not only helps our protest against the sexist tax, but it also helps to fight period poverty across the UK, too.”

9// Meanwhile, Scotland Is Taking Big Steps to End ‘Period Poverty’

Developing countries aren’t the only places where girls miss school because of their periods. In nations with some of the world’s most advanced economies, low-income girls are also struggling to manage  their periods because of cost. At the same time, mothers who face a choice between buying food for their children or products for their own periods go without pads.

To alleviate that financial strain, Scotland launched a six-month pilot program in July to provide free hygiene products to women and girls. By August, the success of the program had inspired a member of parliament to advance a bill that would provide universal free access to pads and tampons in all schools and universities.

10// Activists Are Pressuring the US, India and Other Countries to End Their Own ‘Tax on Blood

Whether they call it the “Tampon Tax,” the “Tax on Blood,” or the “Pink Tax,” advocates agree the sales tax on hygiene products is an unnecessary cost on a necessary product. Throughout the year, women continued the fight against the unfair tax, increasing the pressure in essays and social media campaigns.

“We need to change the conversation, the practices, and the policies that too often punish women for being women,” Chelsea Clinton wrote in April. “We shouldn’t be embarrassed by breastfeeding or menstruation, but we should be ashamed that women are suffering in silence because too many people refuse to speak out.”

Their tireless work has started to pay off, as California recently announced that public school students will receive free sanitary pads and Maharashtra, India’s second-largest state, made sanitary pads free for all schoolgirls.

Read More: Bill Aims to Make Tampons Free in California Low-Income District Schools

Read More: ‘Tax on Blood’: Campaign to Stop Tampon Tax in India Goes Viral

The efforts of these champions will help make safe and healthy hygiene a reality for all women. Period