If you're female, getting your period probably isn't the highlight of your month. But what is it like for women in the poorest countries in the world, where sanitation is scarce and the topic of menstruation is very much taboo? A team of design and business students have developed a simple device that tackles this problem head on: a simple concept that in the future could be empowering young girls and giving them back their freedom, regardless of the time of the month.
Periods have been getting a lot of press recently. Whether it's Instagram censoring artist Rupi Kaur's blood stained bed photos, or Kiran Gandhi running the London marathon without a tampon, the topic of menstruation has been hitting the headlines like never before. So why is it that stories like this cause still such a stir in modern society? Maybe, as Kiran Gandhi herself suggested, it has something to do with the fact that both men and women have been socialized to pretend periods don't exist, and that despite being something that over the half of the world's population has to deal with throughout a large proportion of their lives, periods are still seen as something shameful, dirty, and taboo.
Despite the work of initiatives such as the Menstrual Hygiene Day, in some of the poorest countries in the world, the situation is even more extreme, with many teenage girls unable to attend school during their period. A 2012 UNICEF report revealed that more than half of the schools in the poorest countries lacked private toilet facilities, meaning girls face huge difficulties when it comes to changing their pads throughout the day. Add to this the social stigma surrounding menstruation - in some countries, pads often aren't allowed to be washed with other clothes or dried in public - and it leads to improperly washed, unhygienic sanitary towels, reproductive infections, and ultimately some girls staying at home during their periods, sometimes ending up dropping out of school entirely.
So what's the solution?
Still in the conceptual stage, but a fascinating idea nonetheless, the Flo menstruation kit may offer a solution. The simple device is made up of four simple elements: two bowls, a basket and a string, that when spun together, allows girls and women to wash and wring out their used pads in a quick and efficient way. They can then use the basket to dry the pads outside in the sun, using another piece of fabric to shield them from view. Also included in the Flo kit is a zip-top pouch that allows girls to carry their fresh pad to school discreetly, and take the used pad home again.
This is an issue that doesn't only affect individuals, or even just women: studies show that when more girls go to school, a country's GDP actually increases. And that's why an invention like Flo could prove to be such a powerful tool - having easy access to clean, dry, sanitary pads allows girls and women to be more comfortable both physically and emotionally, able to live their lives regardless of whether they have their period or not, and take control of their bodies, rather than being a prisoner of them. Taking control of their menstrual cycle, they are able to take control of their lives.
Flo is a concept developed by Mariko Higaki Iwai, Sohyun Kim, Tatijana Vasily, Charlotte Wong and Benjamin Freedman.