Project Lilypads: Changing The Conversation on Menstrual Health

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   Amy Li Baksh | Posted on March 23, 2020

The issue of period poverty is not a new one— it is as old as humanity itself. Periods are often considered taboo to discuss. In medical science the uterine reproductive system is severely understudied. And around the world, people who menstruate are the ones that suffer from this lack of information. People don’t know what to expect from their own bodies. Preteens entering puberty are faced with confusing and scary messaging which leads them to making poor menstrual health choices. Even adults, not knowing what is or isn’t normal to experience during a period, can suffer in silence if they have undiagnosed health issues like endometriosis or polycystic ovaries. People live their entire lives ashamed of a process that is the most natural thing on earth. 

Changing the conversation around periods is part of what inspired me to start the Lilypads project. The other part of the equation is changing the way we treat our planet. Sustainable living is a term that has been thrown about for decades— but what does it really mean in a world with unprecedented climate change? As a region, we are facing issues that need all hands on deck. Each of us must find ways to change our everyday lives; to think about our problems as community problems, and to step up and solve them. 

When we think about an issue like plastic waste, many of us picture plastic bags or bottles. We rarely consider the impact of period plastic. One disposable menstrual pad produces as much waste as five plastic bags. Tampons, while having less plastic in the product themselves, are still wrapped in layers of plastic, often with a plastic applicator— all discarded within seconds of use, for every menstruating person, about 2-3 times a day, 5-7 days a month, from puberty to menopause. That’s a lot of plastic.

In the last decade, reusable menstrual products have become more mainstream and they caught my attention. Alongside the products we are all familiar with, i.e. disposable pads and tampons, there are now menstrual cups, which are little silicone cups that are inserted like tampons, period underwear, which is basically a pad built into the underwear  itself, and reusable cloth menstrual pads. Instead of using one every few hours, a set of reusable products can last years.

After a quick unfruitful search for Caribbean producers, I caved and bought a set of reusable pads and a menstrual cup online. They worked just fine, but I was disappointed not to find any local options. So I decided to make my own reusable cloth pads. I found that there was actually a lot of useful information online on how to make your own cloth pads. I wasn’t surprised to find a lot of this ‘DIY’ information online, because when you have a topic that is overlooked by the education system and underserved by male researchers and doctors, you will find a community of women forging a path for themselves outside of the mainstream— it’s been this way since forever.  

I made a batch with a combination of natural fabrics that did the job just as well as plastic and were even more comfortable to wear. With the success of my test batches, I wanted to share my new knowledge with other people, to help us collectively reduce our carbon footprint. So I started Lilypads.

I designed the fabric myself, because I wanted it to feel Caribbean, instead of some foreign idea. Disposables are very new, historically speaking. The first commercial pads were available in the 1800s, and in the Caribbean they became commonplace a lot later. Even though reusables seem new and strange to us, this is traditional knowledge that is being updated with modern techniques and information. .

An example of a reuseable sanitary pad from the Lilypads project

For me, the most important part of what I’m doing is introducing people to options that they may not have considered possible. We don’t have a culture of talking openly about menstrual health, and that is a big hurdle to overcome. And I also wanted to have that conversation with people who don’t menstruate, because they make up a huge part of our governing bodies and other leadership positions, as well as being fathers, husbands and just fellow human beings on this planet. 

Many people have a visceral reaction to periods as a concept, and they don’t realise how this informs the way they treat menstrual health, from the personal level to the structural level. They don’t realise how young children pick up on that negativity and internalise it. We need to give our young people a different message as they are going through the confusing time that is puberty and settling into their perspectives on gender, on health and their bodies. Our future depends on it. 

For more information on the Lilypads project, follow @lilypadstt on Instagram.

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Amy Li Baksh

Amy Li Baksh is a writer and artist from Trinidad and Tobago. She completed her degree in history and literature from The UWI, before following her love for writing across the span of several professions. She has always been fascinated by the way the world works, which led her to a love for science and all things STEM. Most of her work and personal projects surround her passion for activism, and her goal is to find ways to connect to the human stories behind STEM, and to see how we in the Caribbean are tackling the issues that we face today.

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