The M Scale: A Menstruation Facility Review App
The M Scale is giving women the “power of knowledge” when it comes to menstruating outside the home with an app which lets you review toilets worldwide based on how they accommodate menstruation.
Annabelle Robertson was fed up with the anxiety she experienced when menstruating outside of her home. So, along with developer Simone Morieri, and former HR professional Apolina Saikia, she founded The M Scale, an app which lets you pinpoint an exact location, rate it out of 5 stars (or 5 droplets) and leave comments about the facilities - if you can find it on Google Maps, you can review it!
“There’s already such a taboo around showing any signs of bleeding – it’s apparently the most embarrassing thing that can happen, and yet public spaces really don’t equip menstruators with the tools they need to deal with that”, Annabelle explained. “The basic necessities are often missing – toilet paper, soap, privacy! I honestly would skip a day of the Glastonbury Festival if I was on my heaviest day – and that’s saying something.”
Annabelle, originally from New Zealand but now based in Italy, noticed this lack of care when she was accompanying her husband to gigs. “About a year ago he was hosting a night and I had my heaviest flow day and I said to a friend ‘man if he wasn’t playing, I actually wouldn’t go – because I have no idea how easy it will be to manage my period when I’m there and I have a lot of anxiety’ and it dawned on me that a lot of women must forego events for the same reason”, she explained.
However, the idea really took off when she travelled to Western Australia: “We were in Perth and we had tickets to take the boat and cycle and snorkel around Rottnest Island for the day. I woke up with a really heavy flow and I panicked – I started searching things online like ‘managing period Rottnest Island’ to no avail. I didn’t know what to expect. I packed toilet paper, a plastic bag, tampons, a water bottle for cleaning hands, soap… And then when I got there I discovered on one side of the island it was absolutely fine, and on the other side there wasn’t really anything there. I was sitting on the beach thinking about how all this anxiety could have been avoided that I started formulating The M Scale – it was literally all I could talk about for the rest of our trip.”
In May 2022, on World Menstrual Hygiene Day, Actionaid UK found that 26% of women in the UK have experienced ‘period shaming’. They found that women felt shame around their period due to fear of leaking into their clothes (58%) and people seeing them carrying period products into the toilets (31%).
Frances Longley, Chief Executive of ActionAid UK says: “Not only does the stigma of periods leave women in the UK embarrassed, anxious and missing out on everyday life, but many of the women and girls we work with around the world are forced to manage their periods in uncomfortable, unsanitary and ineffective ways. This leaves them isolated and unable to claim their basic human rights. Those who menstruate have a right to free and accessible period products, hygienic spaces and a right to discuss these issues without shame.”
Annabelle hopes The M Scale can give women and girls “the power of knowledge” and provide them with the tools to be active and free during their periods. “Our tagline is ‘the unionisation of menstruation in public places’ and I really see this app as doing that”, Annabelle said.
Actionaid UK also reported that globally 1.25 billion women and girls have no access to a safe, private toilet. The M Scale is taking the first step towards tackling this by highlighting how important toilets and their facilities are when it comes to periods. “By creating a sort of 'accreditation' for companies, restaurants, establishments and councils etc we are opening the conversation around menstruation and toilets and making it an entirely normal part of life”, said Annabelle.
Since the app’s launch, reviews have been uploaded on a global scale from countries such as Canada, London, Italy, Bali and Australia and covering anything from restaurants, airports, remote tourist sites and even schools:
“Two stalls, always in good condition and both have sanitary bins which seem well maintained. Two sinks available, but not in a private stall so if you use a cup it's probably not the best. They don't provide sanitary towels. Always have nice hand soap available, but no paper towels for drying/cleaning up and only a hand-dryer”. - Sunn Inn Faversham, Kent. 20th February 2023 - 4/5.
“The toilets are always clean and have the option to pick a loo with a sink in it, making it perfect for menstrual cups” – Second Home, London Fields. 10th March 2023 - 5/5.
“Facilities suitable for pads and tampon. No toilet to wash a keep cup.” - Parkerville Tavern, Australia. 23rd June 2023 - 4/5.
“The tampons have cardboard applicators and the pads don’t have wings - sometimes not stocked.” - Mount Vernon High School, California. 29th July 2023 - 2/5.
“Unisex toilets, not cleaned, the sink is only one outside in front of the public street. No toilet paper and no soap.” - Temples of Penataran Agung Lempuyang, Bali, 12th August 2023 - 1/5.
The M Scale is also raising awareness of period poverty by creating a point of information about which toilets provide free period products. “Looking to the US and Canada, they are much more advanced in offering menstrual products in bathrooms for free – and it feels we (Europe) are really far behind on that front”, said Annabelle. “People don’t bring their own toilet paper and soap to a bathroom so why do we lug around period products – or worse, get an unexpected period and have to rush to find and buy a product.”
Finally, Annabelle is launching an in-app travel blog which users can filter by country or continent to find tips, advice and information shared by writers around the world on menstruation when travelling.
“It’s not that every menstruator has to go out and wave a bloody flag and talk about their experience, but rather the rest of society should say ‘hey, you bleed and we’re totally comfortable with that'", Annabelle explained. “Hopefully, it will become second nature to leave a review, or to check reviews to remove anxiety and the app will become a trusted brand on the road to de-stigmatising menstruation!”
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