Changing the world, one period at a time

6 November 2015

Science graduate Rosie Sheb'a went from celebrating graduation to celebration menstruation.

According to Cosmopolitan, 2015 is the year “the period went public”, with debates over the “tampon tax” grabbing headlines around the world.

ANU science alumnus Rosie Sheb’a says it’s about time too.

“We need to make the conversation about menstruation more open,” Rosie says. “And it is definitely moving that way.”

Rosie is the founder of Sustainable Menstruation Australia, which sells reusable menstrual products, and advocates for greater awareness of the environmental, social, and financial impact of menstruation.

This might involve installing a three-metre high vulva at the entrance to an event called Menstravaganza, or it might mean cycling nearly 4,000 kilometres across the USA to give workshops on sustainable menstruation along the way. As long as it gets people talking.

“I call myself an evangelist for sustainable menstrual products, like cups,” Rosie says. “They can make a huge difference to people’s lives.”

Rosie says her own life changed when she was working as a scuba diving instructor, and discovered a menstrual cup could prevent her period disrupting her work every month.

Alongside the practical advantage, she saw how sustainable menstrual products could also contribute to her passion for the environment.

“I found out that 0.5 per cent of plastics debris in the ocean is actually tampon applicators, and I thought, this idea of sustainable menstruation could be the way I can help change the world.

“Each menstrual cup saves one woman from contributing 12,000 pads and tampons to landfill in a lifetime. There’s a huge impact there.

“And beyond the environmental impact, menstruation is a barrier to education in a lot of parts of the world. In developing countries, girls miss on average five days of school every month, or they even start dropping out of school at 12 or 13 when they start menstruating, because they don’t have access to menstrual products.”

Rosie completed a Bachelor of Science with honours at ANU and says her degree prepared her for her future as a communicator and activist.

“Studying at ANU really changed the way my mind worked. It forced me to be analytical, and to think critically. I don’t take anything at face value anymore, but instead question everything.

“I majored in evolution, ecology and hydrology, and I still apply the way of thinking that I learnt there, where I see the bigger picture and the long term ramifications of an issue.

“Whilst from the outside it might look like I’ve stepped away from science and ecology, it’s still very much integrated into everything I do.”