Burn Your Sanitary Pads

Speaking up for the right to safe sanitary pads

Kim-Shin Hyo-Jeong 2020-06-09

※ Editor’s note: Article author Kim-Shin Hyo-Jeong is a feminist researcher and activist.


Where are the safe sanitary pads?


I want to burn sanitary pads. I want to go to Gwanghwamun Square and burn the thousands of sanitary pads I’ve used in my life. (Though if I really did that, I’d have to pay a 5-million-won fine for arson.)


I’ve always been told that the reason for the stomach and back discomfort and terrible uterine pain I’ve had is unknowable. Because the source was unknown, I blamed myself. I told myself I was in pain because I ate meat, ate dairy and flour products, drank alcohol, worked late, didn’t exercise. Despite the monthly pain that made me want to have my uterus removed, all I did was get slightly stronger painkillers and try to bear it. It didn’t occur to me that my menstrual pain could be caused by the sanitary pads that I carefully chose and bought at a discount.


▲ At the Korean Women’s Environmental Network(KWEN)’s “Press Conference for a Thorough Investigation into the Side Effects of Disposable Sanitary Pads” on August 24th.   ©KWEN

I’m so angry that I’ve been living deprived of my right as a consumer to know what goes into sanitary pads and which sanitary pads are safe. It’s been six months since the presence of toxic materials in sanitary pads was revealed, but we still don’t have the necessary safety information.


I want to buy the sanitary pads said to be safe, even though they’re two-to-three times more expensive, but they’re always sold out. Orders for cotton sanitary pads have become so backed up that they say that one placed now won’t be filled until next year. When my period starts, I wonder what product I can use to minimize the danger, but I can’t find the answer. With no other choice, I choose the problematic disposable sanitary pads again. Wearing them, I feel uncomfortable. I wonder what chemicals are in them and what will happen if they enter my body, and I’m plagued by anxiety when my lower abdomen starts to cramp up.


Are menstrual cups and cloth pads good alternatives?


Menstrual cups’ and cloth pads’ popularity as alternatives has shot up, but when I went to buy some, I found that they aren’t cheap. And they’re difficult to use. I watched a YouTube video on how to use menstrual cups, and then I watched it again, but I still couldn’t get it. Menstrual cups are expensive, and you need to buy one that’s a good fit for your body if you want it to work right. You need to know the length of your cervix, but I’m not sure how you could go about measuring that.


What’s more, cups and cloth pads are completely impractical for people who don’t have their own bathroom and, in pads’ case, a space that gets sunlight to dry them. That means they’re off the table for people who live in goshiwon [a form of housing that usually involves sharing a bathroom] or half-basement apartments, or who have roommates. Menstrual cups are also out of the question for many women with disabilities.


Also, for women who spend all day doing paid labor, the care involved in cleaning cloth pads is a burdensome addition to their housework. We need disposable pads that are safe (for us and the environment).


I also hear that it’s been two months since the government supply of free menstrual pads provided to low-income teenage girls has run out in the wake of the controversy. These girls, who were using shoe inserts as menstrual pads before that program was created – what do you think they’re using now?


▲Sept. 5, in front of the Government Complex-Seoul. After its press conference, KWEN led a performance enitled “My Body Is Evidence – Test Me”, which called for a full examination of toxins in menstrual pads and an epidemiological investigation. ©KWEN

Whom does the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety serve?


When the controversy became uncontainable, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDA) finally started an investigation of 86 types of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in 896 menstrual pad products made by 56 companies and sold in South Korea. For reference, one menstrual pad is said to contain traces of around 200 types of chemicals.


The MFDA announced today that it would reveal the results of an investigation of 10 VOCs by the end of September, and results regarding the other 76 by the end of the year. But I’m already suspicious of the results, not only because the MFDA’s foot-dragging has made it difficult to trust, but also because its investigation will not check for toxic chemicals other than VOCs, such as dioxins, heavy metals, residual pesticides, and artificial fragrances.


And that’s not all. The MFDA’s “Menstrual Pad Safety Investigation Committee” doesn’t include a single expert on women’s or environmental issues. Some of the committee’s meetings have been conducted in private, and a list of its members has not been provided. Taken altogether, these facts convince me that the MFDA is ultimately indifferent to public safety. You have to ask - if the MFDA is not on citizens’ side, whose side is it on?


-National inspection targeting not menstrual pads but women’s groups?


Meanwhile, further controversy has arisen as Liberty Korea Party assemblyman Kim Sang-hoon (West Daegu district) of the National Assembly’s Health and Welfare Committee has called the Korean Women’s Environmental Network (KWEN) in for a state affairs audit to accuse it of having a special relationship with a particular menstrual products firm.


KWEN is a women’s organization that has been promoting women’s health rights by publicizing the issue of menstrual pad safety in March, collecting more than 3,000 stories of the harm caused by menstrual pads, etc. But what does it mean that the state affairs audit focuses not on securing the safety of menstrual products but on challenging the women’s organization that has brought the issue of toxic menstrual pads to light?


The Liberty Korea Party’s actions are fishy. They’re conducting a classic witch hunt against the women who dare to speak out about unbearable pain and society’s institutional discrimination. I want to ask Assemblyman Kim: “And menstrual pads? What are you going to do about them? What are you going to do about the toxic menstrual pads that firms have made hundreds of billions of won selling over the past decades?”


Women, who find blood flowing from themselves once a month at unpredictable times and places, need menstrual products. Shouldn’t the most important item on the government’s agenda be how to make these products safe? Shouldn’t they call all of these firms that have made money putting women’s bodies at risk to the National Assembly for questioning? The National Assembly should investigate the corrupt relationship between the Liberty Korea Party and menstrual products firms.


▲ A press conference led by KWEN in Gwanghwamun Square on May 26 in honor of Menstrual Hygiene Day.  ©Fireworks Femi-Action

The women’s health revolution begins


A country that doesn’t have safe menstrual products, prohibits abortion, and pressures women to have children: this is the reality of South Korea that women are now fighting against with their bodies. It is also the true face of the state and of capital.  How long do women have to live with nameless pain and fear? My body has already suffered too much to wait quietly for someone to make safe menstrual products.


We have to burn the menstrual pads in our bathroom drawers. And let’s reclaim the right to use menstrual products that are safe for our bodies and for the sustainability of the environment. The revolution for women’s health has already begun, and will continue until the day when women can menstruate without worry.


※ Link to a [Korean-language] Blue House citizens’ petition started by Menstruating Women calling for a total investigation of toxins in menstrual products and a bodily epidemiological investigation: http://bit.ly/2wQZVYD


Published Sept. 26, 2017

Translated by Marilyn Hook


*Original article: http://ildaro.com/8010

기사입력 : 2020-06-09

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