Gendered-environmental transformations in global production networks: a study of the disposal of menstrual products in India

  • Mariana Lopez Rodriguez

Student thesis: Phd


The introduction and evolution of menstrual products in the market have had positive implications for the role of women in society, but today, the disposal of this commodity is also generating significant adverse impacts on the environment. The objective of this study is to explore the connection between commercial activities, gender norms, and environmental impacts with a focus on India. Analytically, I developed a conceptual framework that brings a gender perspective to the Global Production Networks framework by drawing insights from Feminist Political Economy and Feminist Political Ecology. For the empirical analysis I carried out a qualitative investigation of the disposal practices of menstrual products in India. The main research question that this study answers is: How do tensions between gender norms and commercial activities configure environmental impacts, and what are the implications for the disposal of menstrual products in India? This analysis reveals that adverse environmental impacts associated with commodities reflect tensions between gender norms and commercial activities that are inherent to the process of commodification of menstrual products. My findings show that these tensions manifest in disposal and waste management practices and perceptions; such as washing products and wrapping them in plastic and being reluctant to engage with menstrual waste. I also found that these practices can generate adverse environmental impacts that are different and arguably additional to those already identified in quantitative assessments such as Life-Cycle Assessments. Therefore, relying solely on quantitative indicators to measure the environmental impacts of commodity chains can mask less visible, but equally critical, practices through which the environment is affected at the local level. To expand the investigation of these tensions I also conducted a gendered analysis of power relations. I found that the distribution of power in the chain shapes the ability of different actors (i.e. firms, civil society, and the government) to reproduce gender norms in line with their interests. In addition, the power of consumers and waste pickers to challenge the gender norms that shape their practices is determined by their individual agency. For these reasons, I argue that the environmental governance of GPNs needs to adopt a multi-dimensional gendered approach that integrates the influence of gender norms in public, private, and social governance and that opens up new channels for collective and individual contestation. This analysis demonstrates that the processes of commodification can be insufficient to challenge gender norms, which become embedded in commercial activities in varied and often contradictory ways. Achieving transformative change requires contesting the gendered power asymmetries that reinforce gendered inequalities and compound environmental impacts in commodity chains. The impending environmental burden associated with the growing sales of menstrual products in India underscores the urgency of investigating the gendered transformations in global production to prevent environmental impacts from becoming seriously aggravated.
Date of Award1 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorStephanie Barrientos (Supervisor) & Frank Boons (Supervisor)


  • waste pickers
  • Feminist Political Economy
  • menstruation
  • India
  • menstrual products
  • environment
  • Global Production Networks
  • Life-Cycle Assessment
  • gender
  • Feminist Political Ecology

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