Isobel Marshall: Inside the mind of a feminist humanitarian

27 July 2022

TABOO Co-founder and Young Australian of the Year, Isobel Marshall, shares her passion for women’s rights and SA's supportive start-up community.

Isobel Marshall had only just entered her teens when the notions of gender inequality, social injustice and period poverty entered her mind, planting a seed which would ultimately shape her career path.

Born in the UK, but growing up in South Australia, Isobel developed a global mindset from a young age.

“Mum and dad [were] so conscious of making sure my brother and I [were] aware of what the world looks like outside of South Australia and Australia, and all the different lives people lead,” Isobel said.

“Experiencing and visualising what life looks like in places like South Sudan and Kenya made me really aware of the privileges we experienced and didn’t even know we experienced — primarily from the perspective of gender equality.”

Of particular interest to Isobel was the issue of period poverty and the unnerving observation that — in some countries and cultures — being a female could leave you ostracised, chastised and even punished.

“I was always very interested in pregnancy and childbirth and the complications that can come along with that, particularly when there’s not sufficient health care or support structures in place to help with those sorts of complications,” Isobel said.

Before Isobel had even finished high school, she — along with her friend — Eloise Hall, had discovered social enterprise as a business model and decided they were going to utilise it to create something meaningful.

“Periods are a very necessary biological function and for some people they represent a significant barrier to education, employment, social inclusion, engagement and, ultimately, quality of life…and we didn’t think that that was fair at all,” Isobel said.

And so TABOO was born — a period care business with a serious goal: “To eradicate global period poverty and improve menstrual well-being”.

“I don’t think Taboo would be where it is now in any other state,” she said.

“The culture here [in South Australia] is incredible for starting up a business [because] the startup community and small business community here is so supportive.”

The 2021 Young Australian of the Year is now in her fourth year of studying medicine, and while she has recently stepped away from TABOO to focus on her studies, the feminist and humanitarian is committed to integrating her passion for women’s rights with her career in medicine.

“I won’t feel fulfilled in my career unless I am contributing and that means using my privilege as a way to offer opportunities,” she said.

“At the moment one of my hats is as a medical student; the other is a daughter and a girlfriend and a friend.

“My life’s purpose has to seep into all of those hats. And I think they all culminate into this same sort of idea — that I am fascinated by people.

“I truly believe that every individual just has so much value and they deserve to reach their full potential.

“Relieving barriers like health issues or health conditions or period poverty…allows people to then reach their full potential and go on to wear their own hats, whether that be family member; worker; community member — or whatever that is.”