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istanbul & menstruation

March 12, 2024

I have lived in the megacity of Istanbul, Türkiye, for seven years. It’s enormous, exhausting, stressful, beautiful, and just about everything else in between. 

In my personal experience, I have encountered nothing but openness, support, and care when it comes to discussing menstruation here in Istanbul. That said, I live in Beşiktaş on the European side of the city, which is probably one of the most secular areas of the country. In other areas of Türkiye, period poverty and cultural taboos around menstruation are still common.

Traditional Attitudes to Menstruation I have encountered in Istanbul

  • When you get your period, you should wear socks 
  • You shouldn’t cook/prepare food while menstruating
  • Sex while menstruating is generally a no-no
  • You shouldn’t give blood while menstruating
  • You shouldn’t touch pickles when you’re on your period, as you’ll spoil them

Period Products in Türkiye

Menstrual products are expensive in Türkiye, and they are still taxed as ‘luxury goods.’ Türkiye is experiencing an economic crisis with the Turkish lira falling in value, and it is hard for people to make ends meet in general. 

Sanitary pads are widely available in markets, pharmacies, and supermarkets, but tampons are only available in bigger stores. When you buy pads or tampons, the storekeeper will likely put them in a black plastic bag so you can be ‘discreet.’ (The same applies when buying alcohol.) 

We have a courier service in Türkiye called ‘Getir’ where you can order market essentials to be brought to your door by a courier on a motorbike, and sanitary pads are available through this service which is super convenient (I also enjoy the uncomfortable look on the couriers face when I answer the door in my pajamas!)

Friends of mine also like a Turkish organic pad brand called Beije. Environmentally friendly and available in different sizes for different flows, these pads are super comfortable and contain no toxic plastics. The best thing about them is that you can have a subscription where your period products are delivered to your door each month. One of Beije’s values is reasonable pricing, and a 20-piece subscription costs about $4 (150 Turkish Lira).

Menstrual cups and period pants are also now available in Türkiye, and Peddon claims to be the first brand of period pants on the market here. (The brand is also owned by my neighbor’s friend so I’m going to invest!)

Toilets and menstrual facilities in Istanbul

In Istanbul, you can run into a cafe, restaurant, or bar and use the toilets without being a patron. (In the UK, I used to buy a 99p cheeseburger if I needed to run in for the loo at McDonald’s!) This means you won’t get caught out when you’re touring around Sultanahmet’s historic sites. There is also a good, clean public bathroom in the Grand Bazaar near Nusret restaurant, but there is often a queue. 

A woman stands in the centre of a mozaic and light tiled arched hallway.
The Iconic Spice Bazaar

If you’re caught out and about, you are always welcome to use the bathrooms in the nearest mosque. Just be quiet and respectful when entering so as not to disturb prayers. 

As a mum, I also spend a lot of time in parks. They have these portacabin public bathrooms that you pay a few lira to use, or you can scan your Istanbulkartı (travel card) to use. They are always clean and well looked after. The times I have no coins or Instanbukkartı on me, I have been allowed to use the facilities regardless, and I’m inclined to think it’s because I was a woman and, therefore, may be menstruating. 

In general, standards for cleanliness in Türkiye are very high, and you can find seated toilets in most major cities, as well as squat toilets. (If you have to use a squat toilet, use the jug of water to ‘flısh’ and remember to leave this full of water for the next guest.)Toilet paper cannot be flushed down the toilets and is thrown in the bin. There is often an ‘abla’ (‘big sister’) on cleaning duty in public bathrooms, and she will hand you paper towels, etc. 

If you're visiting Istanbul…

Period stigma is decreasing in Istanbul, but the same can not be said for the rest of Türkiye. When you visit Istanbul, take tampons with you as they may be trickier to find. Cup use should be fine, and remember NEVER to throw any period products or tissues down the toilet. 

Remember to share your bathroom reviews with The M Scale app during your trip to Istanbul to help raise standards for menstruators.

Becky Hunter-Kelm

A Brit living in Istanbul, Becky is a copywriter for heart-led coaches, business owners and entrepreneurs doing great things in the world.

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