Second Annual Conference of the Menstruation Research Network (UK)

Menstruation & Sustainability

Funded by the Wellcome Trust

Why menstruation and sustainability?

Sustainability is the latest trend in the field of menstrual activism and research, with many consumers and legislators waking up to the environmental pollution caused by single-use tampons and pads. Period underwear, reusable cups, washable and compostable pads are gaining public acceptance and are even becoming lifestyle choices in many countries and contexts. But the same old menstrual stigma and capitalist exploitation quickly attaches itself to even the most well-meaning attempts at promoting more environmentally friendly ways of managing menstrual bleeding. This conference aims to become aware of such patterns and critically think through the chances and challenges of moving menstrual activism, art, policymaking, innovation and research towards greater sustainability. It also allows space for a wide variety of other current research into menstruation throughout the lifecycle, menarche and the menopause to give a real sense of the breadth of the current state of the field.

Conference Summary

The School of Modern Languages at the University of St Andrews (UK) hosted the conference on Menstruation and Sustainability at the end of May 2023. Artist Jay Critchley gave a public keynote presentation and performed as Miss Tampon Liberty in a costume made from washed-up tampon applicators. Fifty academics, charity workers, activists, artists, policy makers and entrepreneurs from Mexico, Kenya, the US, Canada, Europe, Thailand and elsewhere presented and discussed recent research on sustainable menstrual products as well as the role of menstruation in law, public health, politics, justice, global development and culture.

Speakers highlighted how sustainable products such as period underwear, reusable cups, washable and compostable pads have made menstruation ‘cool’ to some consumers, while others struggle to access any period products at all. Conventional tampons, pads and applicators contain plastics and are a significant pollution issue in Scotland and elsewhere due to water companies not adequately clearing sewage.

Performance and conceptual artist Jay Critchley led a procession to Castle Sands in a Statue of Liberty gown made from tampon applicators washed up on his local beach in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

A twinned event, the Menstrual Justice Salon run by Prof. Marcy Karin, a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Edinburgh, reflected on the state of menstrual policy and law in Scotland after it became the first country to enshrine in law a universal right to access free period products. Monica Lennon MSP, who had championed the law, spoke about the continuing challenges with implementing the law, ensuring menstrual education and promoting reusable products.

A report on the conference from the Provincetown Independent, Cape Cod, Massachusetts is available here.

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