Sanitary pads: Its evolution and amazing importance in history

The hush that surrounds this forces many to use anything that can in absorb menstrual blood. This largely happens in fairly isolated areas, where health education is limited and the possibility of obtaining sanitary pads is far off.
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A wonderful thing for us to realize is that history allows us the blessing of getting to know where something came from, and further knowledge of seeing how it evolved. We are permitted to observe how we have advanced throughout our time, with technology, beliefs and education and this changes when compared to different cultures. With these interesting concepts in mind, it would be fascinating to delve into the history and evolution of sanitary pads all over the world and India.

Pursuing this particular topic is very encouraging in that it lets you really know the history of normal things that exist nowadays, in particular sanitary pads. It will help you become more educated about it and its importance to all women worldwide, and maybe someday help end the unnecessary taboo placed on the topic of periods!

The portrayal of menstrual hygiene mostly revolves around the subject of sanitary pads, their utilization and spread throughout the world. Keep in mind that good quality, disposable, sanitary pads or just pads for short are undeniably a good and safe option for many women when it comes to their monthly period cycles.

sanitary pads with menstrual blood on them

Considering all the technological advancements we have today in our society, it is regrettable to see that menstrual products have not made as much progress compared to other products. If there was not any implied shame on the subject, perhaps this would not be what we have today. If only honest and sincere conversations were had normally! This lack of conversing about this topic is mainly why there is so much work to do to raise awareness on menstrual hygiene.

The hush that surrounds this forces many women to use anything they can get their hands on that can function in absorbing menstrual blood. This largely happens in fairly isolated areas, where health education is limited and the possibility of obtaining sanitary pads is far off. Some of the ill advised, used absorbents are wood pulp, husk, and sand.

Which is obvious for the educated reader is not or should not be an option. They are not effective in absorbing blood, and an even worse outcome is that they are a gateway for infections and diseases. In addition to this, some of these infections can be life threatening.

It was found by the World Health Organization (WHO), that there is a higher rate of death by cervical cancer, in India, when it is accompanied with poor menstrual hygiene habits. Accounts for nearly double the global mortality average. Thankfully today sanitary pads are found to be the most helpful menstrual product in controlling bleeding, especially in India.

To get into the history behind sanitary pads

This fact may come as a surprise for you, is that sanitary pads were originally made for men to use! They were crafted, by french nurses, to be used for soldiers who were hurt in battle to manage bleeding. These pads were made from cheap materials that are absorbent and easily disposable. It did not take long for this invention to be commercially available. In 1888 it became available under the name “Southball Pad”.

Johnson & Johnson

Later another company “Johnson & Johnson”  in America followed with their own version of the product in 1896. By the company’s nature it fulfilled many needs of society, from surgical dressings to first aid kits. So it finally addressed a need that was ignored and swept under the rug. The product they came out with was named “Lister’s Towel: Sanitary towels for ladies”. However at the time there was apprehension in buying this product, due to the name given to it. So later on in the 1920s it was given a new more discrete name “Nupak”.

Throughout history there was always something standing in the way of addressing menstruation needs, from shame associated to economic inequality. In the beginning the commercially available sanitary pads “Nupak” were rather high priced, meaning there were still some women who could not afford to purchase it.

Sadly they were a bit pricey!

For those of higher economic status, they would just leave money in a box and take the sanitary pads without having to deal with the store clerk. The pads were packaged in a simple box that had a label of the brand and company name on one side. While Other sides were plain looking so that the women buying could walk around without feelings of embarrassment.

However there was a fault with this revolutionary product, it was incapable of staying where it was placed and kept slipping afterwards. Originally, these “Nupak” pads were made from cotton wool, for example, and their shape was rectangular with a lining to absorb the menstrual flow. The lining was on the front and back to affix it to, let’s say, a girdle to be worn below the woman’s underwear.

Fortunately, as we all know this faulty solution did not last for too long. Adhesive strips were added to hold the pad in place and from then on those who prefer sanitary pads can use them with a relaxed mind.

Woman laying on the couchworking on a laptop, with a smile on her face

Ancient Egyptians went with papyrus as a means for “pads”. They would go about this by wetting papyrus in the Nile river to make it softer for improving its ability to absorb blood. In Greece, they used wooden splinters wrapped with cotton as their version of “pads”. With German and English women, on the other hand, they just bled into their clothes in the 18th and 19th century. Now with the coming and passing of the First World War it brought around a few inventions that owed their existence to the war. Inventions such as period bloomers and sanitary aprons.

The shape of period bloomers are similar to large diapers, but were unfortunately very uncomfortable to wear. Reason being is that they were coated with rubber. Even though they were able to prevent leaks, they did not allow air flow and therefore were unhygienic. With sanitary aprons, their purpose did not serve much in regards to controlling blood flow of a woman’s period. Their main purpose was to protect your clothes from the released blood.

Like everything, things develop with time!

The years went by with many things changing and evolving over time, with sanitary pads being one of them. Those products started to take the shape widely known today, slowly advancing in the different types and shapes of menstrual products. From reusable to plastic pads, to menstrual cups and tampons. For India on the other hand, sanitary products and their developments did not make its way into the country as fast as the rest of the world. However thankfully they are available today at pharmacies in urban regions of India.

Different period products (sanitary pads, tampons, and period cups) placed next to each other

With it unfortunately being a country with many underdeveloped areas, those of low income are not able to purchase sanitary pads at the current available prices. With this sad fact in mind, it has led to severe deficiency in convenience of these essential products. Rural regions also suffer from lack of water and functioning toilets, which exacerbates the problem of poor menstrual hygiene.

But do not lose hope in this being solved! There are efforts in place to provide low income women in India. Such as the GiveHer5 social initiative, where they provide safe sanitary options for women across Indian rural areas.

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