My mother Francine and I founded Diva International in 2001 with the vision of creating a viable alternative to disposable tampons and pads. But when we introduced a revolutionary product—the DivaCup—not everyone was on board.
In a male-dominated industry that viewed a menstrual cup as an oddity, we were often laughed out of boardrooms and rejected by close-minded corporate buyers who preferred the repeat sales of disposables rather than a reusable product. Family and friends also thought we were crazy attempting to compete with corporate giants.
But we were passionate believers. We spent two years perfecting our product. Ultimately, DivaCups became an accepted option, and we changed the way millions of women handle their periods.
Seventeen years later, our company mission has expanded beyond just selling a product. Instead, we’ve become part of a global movement, the fight for menstrual equity—which seeks to eliminate period poverty and ensure the accessibility of menstrual products to all those who menstruate, regardless of where they live or their financial circumstances. And we have a lot of work to do to make that happen.
It breaks my heart to see what women in India, Africa and in other developing nations endure—forced to use newspapers, socks, old rags, mud, ashes, leaves, husks and even dehydrated cow dung to absorb their monthly flow or opting instead to bleed into their clothes. All of these options lead to an increased risk of infections. And in the U.S., a survey of low-income women found that nearly two-thirds couldn’t afford tampons or pads. There are millions of people who live in poverty, who are homeless or in correctional facilities, who lack access to menstrual products.
Access to pads, tampons or menstrual cups should not be a luxury. We must end period poverty—improving access to menstrual products and menstrual hygiene education, clean water, toilets and hand washing facilities and proper waste management in the process.
But even accessibility will not automatically eradicate the cultural taboos and prejudices that millions of women face down when they’re on their periods.
In India, a 12-year-old girl commited suicide after being publicly shamed by her teacher for having her period. In Nepal, the government only recently moved to eliminate the centuries-old practice of banishing “impure” woman into isolated huts, denied access to clean air, water and food. Some died from exposure, animal bites or smoke inhalation. Many were victims of sexual assault.
From the beginning of time, male-dominated cultures have used menstruation as a symbol of women’s weakness and inferiority. And even in the 21st century, superstitions about menstruation persist—that women with periods will contaminate food, that merely touching an “unclean” woman will transmit disease, that showering will cause infertility, that disposal of menstrual pads with other garbage will lead to sickness or cancer or even that sharks will attack women on their periods!
It’s time to stand up for what’s right. It’s time for a revolution in how those who menstruate are treated worldwide.
More people than ever are discussing periods in public—including activist and author Jennifer Weiss-Wolf and the youth-run organization Period: The Menstrual Movement. The Duchess of Sussex, Megan Markle, even powerfully addressed this subject in Time magazine after visiting India in 2017. “In communities all over the globe,” she wrote, “young girls’ potential is being squandered because we are too shy to talk about the most natural thing in the world.”
In Canada, where I hail from, taxes on menstrual products was removed federally in 2015. Across the U.S., individual states have also grappled with the so-called Tampon Tax, which notoriously taxes menstrual products as “luxury items.” While 15 states have eliminated that tax, there are 35 more to go.
And in Congress, we are finally seeing legislation proposed that is pertinent to period poverty: Grace Meng’s M4All (Menstrual Equity for All) Act ensures free menstrual hygiene products are available to students, low-income individuals, homeless people and those who are incarcerated, plus people working for large employers and in all public federal buildings.
Diva’s Inner Revolution movement is made up of people who experience periods who are free from convention, from prejudice and menstrual taboos, and proud of their bodies. Our philanthropic mission, DivaCares, is helping to support menstrual equity on a global scale.
Eliminating period poverty and creating true menstrual equity will require each of us to confront the negative beliefs and taboos wherever we find them. Start today by taking periods public—and taking a stand.