For a future where knowledge about the body is a right

Every day, more than 300 million girls and women around the world menstruate. Most women have periods for a total of seven to eight years in their lifetime. Despite this, menstruation is surrounded by shame, stigma and taboo. Next Period works to create systemic change, develop a standard for safe menstrual protection, and give all women around the world the right to know their own bodies.

The idea for Next Period was born when Louise Berg, the initiator of the project, made a documentary film exploring how menstruation affects women's participation in society. What she discovered was an urgent need for innovative and sustainable menstrual protection that meets the actual needs of users rather than forcing women to adapt to existing options.

- While working on the documentary, I saw the need for a new menstrual protection system that actually meets the needs, but above all the lack of knowledge and information about menstruation and the female body. In meetings with healthcare professionals, they testified about the increasing number of young girls who want to have genital surgery, and about the fear of not looking like everyone else. That's where the idea for Next Period came from, a collaborative project across borders that raises the issue and makes a difference," says Louise Berg.

Work on Next Period started in 2019. During the years the project has been running, a new innovative and sustainable internal menstrual protection has been developed, but it has also worked to create systemic change in society, educate about menstruation and the female genital area, and started work on a global standard for safe menstrual protection. Wargön Innovation has been a driving party in the project since the start.

Louise Berg, initiator of the project.
Photo: Gavin Marshall

The system must change

Next Period strives to create a world where no one suffers structural injustices due to their menstruation. To achieve this requires systemic change throughout society, both locally and globally. Of the 300 million women who menstruate every day, many, especially in low-income countries, suffer from cultural, economic and structural injustices related to their menstruation.

The project is a collaboration between academic, regional, municipal and business actors. This broad collaboration is crucial to taking the issue of menstrual health to a new level. It is a social issue that affects the economy, health and well-being. Women who, due to menstrual pain, faint, lose sensation, vomit or are forced to stay at home for several days each month have difficulty maintaining a normal working life, which in turn costs society large sums of money.

The right to know your own body

A key issue raised by the project is why menstruation remains a taboo subject. There is a general lack of knowledge about how the female body works and what happens in the body during the menstrual cycle. This taboo creates a cycle of stigma and shame. By raising awareness and creating an open dialog, the guilt and shame that many women feel around their periods can be reduced.

Visual Vulva has been developed for this very purpose. Visual Vulva is a unique 3D visualization of the female genital area that will increase knowledge about the female anatomy, break myths and taboos related to menstruation, the vulva and the vagina, and show that all bodies are normal.

- One of the most common questions asked by young girls when they see a gynecologist or midwife is "Do I look normal down there?". This must change! Through the development of Visual Vulva, we want to improve the conditions for future generations," says Louise Berg.

Global standard for safe sanitary protection

In 1990, the first global standard for condoms was introduced, but there is still no global standard for sanitary protection. This means that there is no clear regulatory framework to ensure that tampons, sanitary towels and menstrual cups are safe and work properly.

Next Period is one of the initiators of the global standardization work now underway. The work, led by the Swedish Institute for Standards, SIS, involves writing a standard to ensure the quality of menstrual products, focusing on common and clear safety requirements, comparable test methods and consumer information. More than 40 countries have joined the work and the committee, which consists of experts, industry representatives, researchers, organizations and ISO staff, has received a donation of over SEK 8 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A global standard for safe sanitary protection will raise awareness and quality of sanitary protection, increasing consumer power through easier comparison of products and their contents.

Next Period is not just about improving menstrual protection, but about changing the way society views menstruation. By creating sustainable menstrual protection, spreading knowledge about the female body and pushing for systemic change, Next Period works to ensure that no woman in the future will have to feel guilt or shame for something as natural as menstruation.

The Next Period project is funded by Vinnova and is carried out in collaboration between Celwise, Destination Östersund, Lindex, Mid Sweden University, Norrköping Municipality, Shader, Sibship AB, Stadium, Stora Enso, Swedish Institute for Standards SIS, Vänersborg Municipality, Wargön Innovation and Wateraid.