nyu master's thesis:
menstruation - the neglected cycle

I’ve started the journey for my Master’s Thesis. This project is in progress, and you can follow my process through this page as I continue to work on and develop my thesis project. The projected end date will be December 2018.

Tools Used: Card Sorting, Adobe Illustrator, Cardboard, Fabric, Acryllic paint, Adobe InDesign

Brainstorming

Through a card sorting activity, I was able to narrow my topic down to "menstrual hygiene in homeless women." Menstruation is something that I struggle with personally on a regular basis, with heavy cramping, fatigue, bloating, sometimes even fevering and vomitting. It's something that I always have to painfully and begrungingly deal with. In this card sorting activity, many of the items I wrote ended up being about women's health or menstruation. I've always felt inspired and motivated every time I saw something related to improving how women feel and what women face during menstruation. At the end of this activity, I thought to myself, if I struggle so much, how does someone who cannot access all these resources go through these challenges? And thinking about these challenges really angered me because this is not something that any menstruating human should have to deal with. Menstruation is a natural, biological process of the human body. So why is it seen in such an unnatural way?

After this, I asked a number of questions about this topic and other topics as well, but found myself most drawn to the topic of menstruation and being able to provide solutions for menstrual health and menstrual equity.



Research

I spent last semester doing research on why this is an issue, and what the source of the problem might be. After going down many different paths in the world of article search terms, I collected a number of articles that provided a lot of different perspectives and information surrounding the topic of menstruation and access to hygiene. From these articles, I was able to confirm that menstrual hygiene management in homeless women is an issue that is being researched--however, not by many. After high level researching, I was able to pose the question:


How can we improve menstrual hygiene management in homeless women?


Looking further into the problem, I noted three main areas of focus for the problem: increasing accessibility to fem care products, erasing the stigma/taboo surrounding menstruation, and bringing awareness to the issue.


Prototype 1 & 2

Upon asking questions, such as "Why is this an issue?", "Why do we think this way?", and "How can we create menstrual equity?", I did a quick brainstorm of many different possible ways to approach this problem. My ideas were all over the place, trying to accomplish all goals at a time. However, one idea that I decided to quickly prototype was a sample of repackaging of fem care products that would be donated in a beautifully branded box to be donated to homeless women.

This would work as a part of a larger system, where a box/care package of items would be donated to homeless women when a non-homeless woman purchases products from partnered brands. My goal and idea behind this package was to create something meaningful for homeless women, and to turn their experience during menstruation into something that is less of a burden.

After thinking more about the type of packaging and the usability of it, I iterated upon this prototype by mocking up a similar concept, but in a different type of packaging--something that would be more useful and reusable for homeless women. I designed a digital version of tote bags that could be used instead.


More Research

After evaluating this prototype, I gradually realized that this prototype didn't really achieve the goals I was hoping for. I had to think again about my target audience, my goals for my project, and whether or not this care package was really achieving the goals that I wanted. I really questioned and thought about why there aren't many solutions are there right now that focus on menstrual equity. I did further research to gain a better understanding of current efforts and current opinions. To do this, I conducted a survey asking participants questions on their views, knowledge, and past education on menstruation. In a survey of 75 participants, in which 52% were female, 45% were male, and 3% were of non-binary gender, I found that more than 60% of participants were first exposed to the topic of menstruation through school, and that a third of the participants had no formal education on menstruation. Almost all participants (99%) felt that menstruation is a topic that should be talked about openly. As a result of this survey, I learned that education plays a large part in current perspectives on menstruation and that there is currently an inadequate amount and quality of education on the topic..

From my second round of research, I was able to gain a better understanding that there is a larger issue at hand, which is related to how people view menstruation. My new question became:


How can we change the stigma surrounding menstruation to allow it to be a topic that is openly discussed, so that more solutions and progress can be made toward menstrual equity?


This question became a lot more specific.


Prototype 3 & 3.5

Riding off this new question, I went on to create a new prototype of a portion of my system solution. I kept the previous portion with tote bags branded in a particular way, and brought them to life with a physical prototype.

I also introduced a new portion to the system, that tackles education of menstruation to change how people view the topic of menstruation. I created a very high level pamphlet that would come with these donation kits that would guide teachers in talking about the topic of menstruation to their students.

Rather than designing a "buy one, give one" sort of system, I felt that it would be better to structure a system where students at elementary or middle schools work together to collect fem care item donations and then repackage these items themselves to donate to homeless women. This would allow children to be better exposed to the topic of menstruation and it might change some perspectives as well.


Next Steps

This project is still in progress, and I will be spending my last semester at NYU in really fleshing out and refining my project and my ideas more. Wherever this project leads to in the end, I hope to be able to implement it into the real world and make at least a small impact in promoting menstrual equity.