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The Future is Female: Kiran Gandhi and Her Menstruation Mission

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The Future is Female: Kiran Gandhi and Her Menstruation Mission

Jessica Assaf

When I met Kiran Gandhi at Harvard Business School in June, I was instantly hooked. She had just graduated from business school with honors, even though she spent her first year playing the drums for M.I.A. on tour. She considers herself a "liberated boss madame." She ran the London marathon in May without wearing a pad or tampon and bled freely, just because it was more comfortable (and to raise awareness for all the girls around the world who don't have access to any menstrual products.) Today, she joined women to rally for safer tampons and pads, for all women, period. We are so excited to share Kiran's experience. xoxo Jess

Photo courtesy of Harvard Business School

Photo courtesy of Harvard Business School

This morning, I joined a coalition of women from different organizations at the #detoxthebox rally at Procter & Gamble’s headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was organized by Women’s Voices for the Earth, a non-profit organization that has spent the past twenty years protecting women from toxic chemicals. Our mission today was to demand that Procter & Gamble disclose the ingredients in their Always pads and Tampax tampons. Right now the public does not have access to this information. The materials used to make these products are not available on the boxes themselves, online, or anywhere. Women’s Voices for the Earth recently asked P&G to provide a list of the ingredients for good measure, and in turn received a document with all the ingredients greyed out. Furthermore, they conducted tests via a third-party lab to find if always pads contained carcinogenic materials, and they tested positive. We had reason to be concerned. 

So we took action. Last night we gathered together at an AirBnB house we rented to strategize, eat, and create signs and banners for today’s rally. When we all drove to downtown Cincinnati together at 7am, P&G was waiting for us, along with several police officers. We started holding up our signs around 8 am, just as people were going to work, and we were met with only support – people would honk, take fliers, ask questions and engage. By 8:30am, we started speaking aloud on the loudspeaker. Since everyone in attendance had a diverse perspective, we were each able to highlight a different reason as to why this matters. 

When I got on the loudspeaker, I spoke about the corporate advantages for being proactive about an issue like this. I also talked about the underlying problem—that this topic is so difficult to talk about largely because talking about anything related to women’s reproductive organs is still so awkward. We have to keep quiet about issues relating to women’s bodies, so we all end up assuming that products like tampons and pads are clean, instead of feeling safe to openly question their ingredients and a corporation’s motivations in keeping this information private. 

We assume, if this really was a problem, wouldn’t it have been addressed already? We assume women just need something to cause trouble about, that this isn’t a real issue. We assume P&G probably has a moral or strategic reason as to why they don’t publish their ingredients. We assume, “Well if I haven’t experienced any problems using these products today, this must not be a real issue.” 

These assumptions keep us in the dark. These assumptions prevent women’s bodies from being protected, women’s voices from feeling valued and real change from being made.

In my mind, the many issues surrounding menstrual health today represent a symbol of the larger issues I am fighting for. I don’t like that in our society, it matters whose voice is saying what. I don’t like that if women get together for a meeting with P&G to express concern about materials in what should just be a cotton pad they are seen as rowdy. If the people who the product actually affects have something to say about it, it’s considered less valuable or valid than if someone who doesn’t experience the problem has something to say about it. Why is that?

One of my favorite parts of the day was when the P&G shareholders were leaving the meeting and many of them came to meet us. In speaking to them I found a lot of openness and mutual agreement that boxes do need to be labeled for both the company and for the women using these products. 

This is a feminist issue, a business issue, a health issue, a human issue. I stand firm in my belief that my generation will make the world a better place for women today. The future is female. #Detoxthebox.

Why does this matter?

The consumer case: 

  1. Consumers have a right to know the ingredients they put inside of their bodies.
  2. Women give birth. To men and women. Chemicals in our bodies mean chemicals in the bodies of future humans to come. Male and female. 
  3. Tampons and pads are used in the most absorptive part of a woman’s body. Unlike the skin, the internal mucus membrane ingests these chemicals far more than external contact.
  4. We have seen rates of cervical cancer, endometriosis and early onset menopause increase in the past 50 years, coinciding with the timeline of increased use of tampons. No direct correlation has been proven, but given that there are few other products that come into contact with women’s reproductive organs as frequently, there is reason to believe that tampons and pads on the mainstream market today are harmful.
  5. Women have historically been silenced – they have been told for generations that they are crazy and that their bodies are a burden to others. When large and reputable companies once again ignore the requests of their female consumers, it reaffirms this history of oppression, instead of seizing a business opportunity and paving the way forward.

The business case:

  1. As competitors in the market like Lola and Conscious Period emerge to provide women with non-toxic, all natural options for tampons and pads, the consumer population will become more educated about their choices. They will become concerned that P&G and other leaders in the market actively choose not to list the ingredients in their products. If they are clean and safe for women to use, why is it that P&G has refused to publish ingredients for years? P&G has a reason to be proactive instead of waiting to lose market share and then trying to compete later on.
  2. Time and time again we have seen companies sit back and wait for waves of consumers to get sick from certain ingredients before acting. Instead of waiting for generations to go by who can trace the cause of various health problems back to the regular use of Always pads and Tampax tampons, P&G could be a market leader, produce cleaner products, and re-educate the market about their own purchasing power.
  3. This is also a rebranding opportunity. P&G has long been American innovators, but new innovators will come. P&G has the opportunity to build upon its incredible Always “Unstoppable” ad campaign by continuing to support women, and very publicly promote the fact that they are publishing the ingredients in order to show love and safety to its female consumers. 

-KIRAN 

You can follow Kiran's work on her blog, Madame Gandhi. 

P.S. I got my period as I was posting this. #fate?