A historic decision was reached recently when advocates across the world voted ‘yes’ to defining standards to ensure safe, monitored and tested menstrual products. 

In the Spring of 2021 a working group at the Swedish Institute for Standards (SIS) submitted a proposal to start a new Technical Committee (TC) in the International Standards Organization (ISO) through their consumer organization, COPOLCO. Via COPOLCO, the errand was put through to ISO,  and in October 2021, ISO opened the voting process with their 165 national member organizations. In order to launch a new field of technical activity with a new TC, ISO procedure requires a ‘yes’ vote from at least two-thirds of member countries with five of these also volunteering to participate actively as experts.

We are incredibly excited to announce that the proposal is approved and TWELVE countries have volunteered their expertise! 

Why standardize?

When a product is standardized manufacturers can access agreed upon specifications on product manufacturing regardless of how they are classified and regulated in a country or region. This provides a platform for greater innovation and product variation on a traditionally homogeneous market. Consumers can, through this stamp of approval and access to greater variety, make more informed decisions about the products they purchase.

Inclusion and choice are vital when it comes to menstruators’ access to products. That’s why this standard will include the currently understood assortment of collection and absorption methods and products available right now: both reusable and disposable pads and tampons, period underwear, menstrual cups and the like. In addition to addressing the gap in safety and quality control, there is a strong expectation that standardization will contribute to destigmatizing menstruation and menstrual products

“This work is incredibly important and will benefit all the 300 million people who are menstruating on any given day across the world, and by extension propelling gender equality forward,” says Gerda Larsson, Co-Founder at The Case for Her. Gerda is one of the members of the Swedish working group and is nominated for Committee Chair for the ISO Technical Committee.

Why now?

The state of standards for menstrual products has been a topic of conversation in the menstrual health community for quite some time. International quality and safety standards already exist for most products used on or inside the body like condoms, IUDs and incontinence products. 

An academic investigation triggered this call to action. When a PhD student in Sweden began examining why there were no such standards on menstrual products, she found two explanations: 1. Since most products used on or in the body are heavily regulated, many people assume menstrual products are too, and 2. Menstrual products are stigmatized and often seen as a commodity that should be kept out of sight and out of mind. As a result, they had never reached the higher standardization agenda. 

Timing – being at the right place at the right time – is most likely what made this initiative successful. We’d peg it down to “asking the right questions at the right time”.  Sweden had gone through a number of consecutive years where conversation around menstruation was building with a rise in podcasts on menstruation, menstrual art in public spaces and organizations dedicated to eradicating the menstrual stigma. When approached, SIS’s immediate reaction was to challenge gender inequality with a can-do attitude and put together a group of diverse actors with a common purpose and pathos.

So is this a done deal? What are the next steps?

We know there will be at least one standard, but it is likely that we’ll need to develop multiple standards under a larger umbrella to adequately address the different kinds of products out there. 

“We need to expect that it will be a couple of years before there is a published standard. A lot can happen when representatives from all over the world work together for common understanding. But having consensus-based requirements developed by a wide range of representatives across the globe is also the power of standardization,” says Anna Sjögren, Project Manager at SIS.

Thank you to SIS, the Swedish working group, COPOLCO and the world wide menstrual health community for coming together and creating positive change on a global scale. 

“The Case for Her is proud to support this project financially and with two team members, which will contribute to increased gender and menstrual equity. We are also very excited to have that PhD student – now Dr. Louise Klintner –  on our team and thank her for asking those catalytic questions six years ago,” says Wendy Anderson, Co-Founder at The Case for Her.