Arctic Periods: Transnational Knowledge about Menstrual History and Wellbeing

Arctic Periods: Transnational Knowledge about Menstrual History and Wellbeing

During the 2010s, menstrual activism, art, media and policy in the Arctic region increased. In 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products free, and Arctic countries launched public health campaigns about menstruation. This project brings together menstrual researchers from the region to exchange expertise and raise awareness of common ambitions regarding promotion of menstrual research and wellbeing in the Arctic. We will prepare the first literature review on menstruation in the Arctic, collaborate through online workshops, and organise one public event, thus providing policy makers in the region with historic and contemporary knowledge.

Funder: Scottish Government Arctic Connections Fund 2021-2022
Duration: 1 October 2021 - 31 March 2022
Host organisation: University of Aberdeen
PI: Dr Camilla Mørk Røstvik

Partner organisations
  • Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, Suffolk University, US
  • Department of Sociology and Work Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Aarhus University, Denmark
Project summary

The topic of menstruation is at a critical moment for understanding and action in the Arctic.

Policies to provide free menstrual products in Scotland have been in place since 2018 and passed into law in 2020. The UK Period Poverty Task Force began work in 2019, whilst employers are experimenting with menstrual leave and menopause policies across Scandinavia, and media increasingly covers topics including endometriosis, menopause, and menstrual pain. This has occurred alongside menstrual activism, and the growth of the interdisciplinary academic field Critical Menstrual Studies, which situates menstruation at the nexus of debates regarding medicine, reproduction, sustainability, and corporate influence.

The Scottish Government’s Period Product (Free) Provision legislation has been recognised as world leading, and there is an appetite in the wider region to replicate this work. This project will thus be a conduit between this and similar Arctic initiatives, providing data about the history and potential expansion of such policies.

Despite these recent legislative developments, menstruation remains on the periphery - culturally, socially, and politically. Signs of the menstrual cycle (blood, pain, menopausal symptoms) have historically and transnationally been coded as negative and unhygienic by institutions, individuals, and ideologies. In order to address current issues of period poverty, reproduction, climate justice, and cultural construction of menstruation in the Arctic region, policymakers, academics, and activists need to understand the historical underpinnings and contemporary formation of the menstrual cycle.

Drawing on interdisciplinary and transnational methodologies via archival research and analysis, this project will document the recent history of menstruation that has led to this current moment in Scotland and the Arctic region, revealing continuities and divergences around the persistent menstrual taboo among understandings of ethnicity and Indigeneity (specifically regarding menstrual culture in Sápmi, Inuit Greenland, and Native American tradition), gender, and class.

Research questions
  1. What has been researched and documented about menstruation in the Arctic?
  2. In what forms have menstrual activism, art and policy work occurred in the Arctic and what has been the response among the Arctic countries?
  3. How have Indigenous cultures (Native American, Inuit, Sámi) created their own menstrual cultures and addressed issues of period poverty and stigma?
  4. With the COVID-19 pandemic and increased attention to inequalities in global and transnational healthcare, how has the Arctic attended to this challenge in connection with menstruation and the menstrual cycle?

1. Define and analyse the role of the menstrual taboo in the Arctic by reviewing and documenting existing menstrual scholarship, activism, and policy. Facilitated by monthly research and writing meetings with collaborators.

  • Outcome: Literature review. To be published open access (free) and circulated in policy, academic, and activist networks across the Arctic region.

2. Organising one public event with stakeholders and invited speakers online.

  • Outcome: Establish an Arctic network of Critical Menstruation Studies scholars, providing a launch for early career researchers in this area and building a community of peers.

3. Combat stigma by documenting menstrual value, history, and impact.

  • Outcome: Engagement with students and student menstrual activists on our campuses by inviting them to our event and sharing our publications and findings, and engaging students in the project through teaching where possible