In nearly 10 years, Uruguayan social enterprise Eco-Ser has provided sustainable menstrual products, services and training materials in their native country. Their launch of the Menstrupedia Comic in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region has sparked a groundbreaking interest in breaking period taboos in familiar and community settings but at state-levels, other dynamics are taking place.
By Natalia Bonilla
Passed over among teenagers, parents and school teachers, Aditi Gupta’s Menstrupedia Comic has become a powerful tool to start engaging in perceived difficult conversations on self-care and menstruation at an early age.
Inspired by this printing form, Eco-Ser founder Carla Giacummo obtained the license to adapt the publication to the Spanish-language and export it to schools, grassroots and feminist organizations in Uruguay, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
The growing success of this publication as well as the rising interest in menstrual cups have been met with an ongoing problem: the taboo surrounding period blood.
Despite estimates that nowadays 800 million people around the world are menstruating, the stigma and shame this biological process may carry will vary, in part, due to traditions, customs, religions or social values on a woman’s physiology and sexuality.
In order to address the complexity of this issue, directly linked to human rights, approaching menstrual education in children and youth is considered essential.
“I think it’s better to start this conversation at 8 or 9 and also help fathers and mothers and any reference for a child to have this tool to open this conversation early in a natural way and also in a way that they could re-learn about menstruation and remember when they menstruating before. Many of them have told me “how can I speak about this?” So I started looking for a resource and found Menstrupedia Comic,” Giacummo said.
As Giacummo and her team printed the guide in the Spanish-language for a growing demand in the LAC region, in Uruguay the structural barriers faced by the social enterprise have not changed since 2015.
“It was very, very difficult. I could not make a pilot plan in any school up until now and I wondered why? And the main problem I found is that we are adults, because the adults don’t know how to speak. So that is why I say we need to relearn as adults so that we can teach children,” the founder said.
Considered to be one of the richest countries in South America, Uruguay’s pink tax elevates to 22 % (IVA) to menstrual supplies such as pads, tampons and cups yet menstrual health education is not part of the public schools system curriculum but certain subjects of sexual and reproductive rights like pregnancy and abortion are taught.
The COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected children’s education and domestic violence internationally, deepening even more the acuteness and absence of information on menstrual health and hygiene needs according to UNICEF.
Maria Noel Merentiel, biologist educator and Eco-Ser representative in Mexico and Central America, said the company was able to deliver books in Mexico for the first time in 2020 “because moms in Mexico and other countries in Latin America were contacting our website looking for ways to get the guide and we began working on it.”
“I remember a mom in Mexico City was very desperate because her daughter was not even 9 or 10 years old but had begun to feel the symptoms of the first menarche and she was worried, not knowing how to address it. She started looking and found the work of Mi Luna Nueva and then she contacted us. You could feel her desperation for help and then how she fell in love with the material, she was deeply grateful with us,” she said.
Merentiel explained that in order to care for our minds and bodies “we must know how they work because if we cannot understand the information we receive about them… how can we care about ourselves? What should we ask and to who? Knowing, understanding, deciding over our bodies and emotions will build trust and self-confidence.”
In the LAC region, menstrual education’s interest is growing slowly in several areas from grassroots and entrepreneurial organizations to feminist, environmental and activist networks.
The coalition building between civic and private sectors is still on the works for there are legal, educational and cultural barriers impacting widespread knowledge sharing and public institutional agreements.
Eco-Ser as well as other organizations featured in the directory of the Menstrual Health Hub are betting on the power of the collective to help break period stigma in a systematic way.
Photo Credit: Eco-Ser
For more information on Eco-Ser visit: https://www.eco-ser.com.uy/