Absorbents, practices, and infrastructures: Changing sociomaterial landscapes of menstrual waste in Lilongwe, Malawi

Cecilia Alda-Vidal, Alison L Browne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In context of limited access to urban infrastructures and restrictive cultural norms, managing menstrual waste has important sustainability implications and complicates the menstrual experiences of women.
However menstrual waste management has remained largely underresearched. To address this research and policy gap we combine postcolonial and African feminist scholarship with social practice theory to explore the socio-materialities of menstrual waste management. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in Lilongwe, Malawi we provide a practice-based account of the different strategies followed by women to handle menstrual waste in a changing socio-material context (including changing absorbents, infrastructures, meanings, and interventions). We demonstrate that interventions normalising new types of disposable and reusable absorbents have not incorporated considerations for the implications related to reuse-disposal of new
products. Such approaches pass on the responsibility for managing menstrual waste to women and leave them with no ‘right’ solution as they deal with the City's unequal infrastructural legacies (i.e., sociospatially segregated, masculinist). We conclude by setting an agenda for research and policy: one that posits that the socio-environmental challenges presented by menstrual waste can be better accounted for by making the needs and desires of women central to the planning of water, sanitation and waste interventions, infrastructures and services.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial & Cultural Geography
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 11 Jan 2021

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Sustainable Consumption Institute


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