Fighting the TABOO: The Australian uni students on a mission to end period poverty

If you’ve ever had a period, you’d be well acquainted with the monthly cycle of cramps, cravings and mood swings.

But imagine facing these tribulations sans the comfort of your trusty hot water bottle, favourite block of chocolate and go-to pack of pads and/or tampons.

Menstruation is inevitable. But your ability to charge on while your body does its thing ultimately relies on your access to sanitary items and menstrual health education.

And unfortunately this often directly correlates with where you live.

This is where Isobel Marshall and Eloise Hall come to the table. Just 21 and 20 years old respectively, the young Australian duo have founded social enterprise TABOO.

Many don’t consider the reality of complicated menstrual healthcare and the associated disempowerment faced by disadvantaged period-having people around the world.

For Isobel and Eloise, the mission is simple: tackle menstrual inequality and ensure those in developing nations have access to sustainable sanitary care and education.

“I was personally exposed to poverty in general at quite a young age. My parents have always been involved in projects, particularly in South Sudan, and they took me to visit with them when I was in Year 8,” explains Isobel.

This came as she also dreamed of becoming an obstetrician or gynaecologist to alleviate the reproductive and birth complications she was busy reading up on.

Eloise tells an all-too familiar tale, “the beginning of learning about period poverty for me probably started when I started buying pads and tampons for myself. That’s when I realised how expensive they are and how buying pads and/or tampons every month could be really difficult for someone who is living below the poverty line.”

United by the desire to enact real-world change, the girls first began mulling over the idea while completing their final year of high school in 2016.

While they studied for exams, the concept for organic sanitary projects with a positive global impact lay in wait.

“As soon as exams finished we began to share our idea of selling pads and tampons to raise money for menstrual health products,” says Isobel.

“The idea was very well received and we won our first start-up competition at the end of 2016. That’s when our passion really started to take off and we decided to take a gap year to try and get the business up and running.”

Three years later and the now-university students officially launched TABOO just a couple of weeks ago following a successful $56,000 crowdfunding campaign to purchase the first batch of their Spanish-produced organic cotton pads and tampons last year.

In short, TABOO sells and distributes 100% organic cotton sanitary products Australia-wide via online subscription, so you’ll never be caught without your trusty pad or tampon again.

“We know through our personal experience and the experiences of [people] around us that being caught off guard with your period is a common occurrence,” says Isobel.

“So, we thought it would be a great idea to make sure our customers have a constant supply of our pads and tampons so they always have one handy for that time of the month.”

While high-quality period products delivered discreetly to your door may seem too good to be true, it only gets better.

Not only are TABOO’s products made from 100% organic cotton – meaning they break down faster than regular synthetic or rayon-based brands – they are also produced in a factory that runs on hydroelectricity, use ethically sourced materials, and come packaged in recycled cardboard.

The organisation’s social impact is two-fold.

On a global level, all net profits are funnelled directly to Melbourne-based organisation One Girl to abate period poverty overseas.

One Girl focuses on education programs for women in Sierra Leone and Uganda to provide them with the financial literacy training and skills they need to progress their education and careers.

“From the beginning of TABOO, we’ve resonated with One Girl’s mission, vision and tactics on how they keep girls in school,” says Eloise.

“They have recognised the power of a pad and how menstrual healthcare can change [someone’s] life for the better.

“We find that One Girl holistically approach issues that exist in communities and work with local people to tackle the problems as effectively and sustainably as possible.”

Closer to home, the social enterprise offers period having and non-period having folk alike the opportunity to purchase pad and/or tampon subscriptions on behalf of those in need.

The idea came from Eloise’s boyfriend’s mum. “She’s a woman who doesn’t require these products anymore but wanted to support TABOO anyway,” explains Eloise.

“She suggested that she could subscribe for a woman in Australia that needs menstrual healthcare products themselves.

“We thought this was an awesome idea because it meant that our profit could still fight period poverty in Sierra Leonne and Uganda but customers can also help women in Australia.

“We know that period poverty exists in Australia in different but still very serious ways.”

Thanks to a partnership with Vinnies Women’s Crisis centre, customers can subscribe to TABOO’s pads and tampons on behalf of a woman who requires emergency accommodation in South Australia.

With a social enterprise in its infancy and the world at their feet, the sky is the limit for the pair.

“We would love for TABOO to be the leading brand of organic sanitary products in Australia because the more sales we make, the more money we can donate to menstrual health projects,” says Isobel.

“This will ultimately mean that more girls will be equipped with sanitary products and the support they need to deal with their period and ensure that they can take part in work, school and society to reach their full potential.”

Find out more about TABOO here.

Image by Rachael Sharman