Talking about periods or anything that relates to women’s bodies has a long history of being seen as taboo, with activists all over the world working hard to bring educational conversations into the light.
In any one day, more than 800 million women and girls have their periods around the world, but many still face hardships when it comes to getting access to basic water and sanitation to deal with menstruation.
Lack of access to period products like sanitary towels often causes shame and leads to stigmatization of periods, as well as causing girls to miss classes and fall behind at school. This negativity can be attributed to years of treating menstruation as taboo and reinforces the misogynistic views society holds on menstruation.
In many cultures and countries, periods are something that should never be spoken about and must be hidden. For example in India when a woman is menstruating, she is often prohibited from religious and social events, and at times not even allowed to cook. Cloaking menstruation in shame can lead to young girls not learning about their bodies and having no clue what to do (or what's happening) when their periods start, which further perpetuates the stigma surrounding periods.
It is evident that more accessible information on menstruation is needed. The role activists play in raising awareness is vital as they often have platforms to raise awareness and have the ability to influence people, and also educate them.
Here are some menstruation activists that you should definitely know, who are on a mission to not only end period poverty but destigmatize menstruation as a whole.
1. Rupi Kaur
The Canadian-based poet is popularly known for her poems on love, loss, abuse, femininity, and menstruation.
In 2015, Kaur posted a picture of herself lying on her bed in tracksuit pants that were stained with period blood on Instagram. The app deleted the picture, which prompted Kaur to take to her Facebook to write an impactful post about the incident. “I will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of the misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be okay with a small leak,” she wrote. “Their patriarchy is leaking. Their misogyny is leaking. We will not be censored.”
The post formed a gateway to conversations about the many stigmas the society holds on menstruation.
Instagram later apologized in an email for removing the post from their app and later restored the image.
2. Candice Chirwa
Candice Chirwa is pictured on May 8, 2021 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Candice Chirwa is pictured on May 8, 2021 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Menstruation activist, speaker, and academic, Candice Chirwa is a young South African who works towards ending period poverty. As the self-proclaimed “Minister of Menstruation” on social media, she works to destigmatize taboos that linger around menstruation. Chirwa has embarked on a mission to bring menstrual education to not only young women but men as well.
Chirwa started her nonprofit organization Qrate in 2018. It's centered around building and strengthening the way in which young people think about social issues, and the team hosts workshops to educate young people on menstruation and sex. Since its inception Qrate has engaged with over 300 young people in the Gauteng province.
“I believe that women, girls, and vulnerable groups deserve fundamental human rights. Through this belief and my educational background, I educate young people and society about menstruation,” she said in an article she wrote for Global Citizen.
“I remember having learned about periods at school only from a biological perspective," she continued. "The lessons left out important information about our bodies, the use of sanitary products, and dismantling the period taboos."
3. Diipa Khosla
Indian influencer Diipa Khosla partnered with UNICEF on their Red Dot campaign to raise awareness around menstruation and debunk myths surrounding it. She visited states across India to raise awareness and speak on menstruation taboos.
Periods have long been considered to be impure and taboo in India. In a study conducted by the Niine Foundation, a movement bringing change in the ways people view menstruation, indicated that 71% of girls in India have zero to minimal knowledge of menstruation before they get their first period.
Khosla, alongside UNICEF, challenged people to share pictures with red dots on their palms in hopes of dismantling the stigma that surrounds periods and starting a conversations about menstruation and menstrual hygiene under the #RedDotChallenge.
4. Nishant Bangera
Also working in India is Nishant Bangera who started a Period of Sharing campaign in 2014, which is centered around encouraging women to speak about menstruation freely. His NGO, Muse Foundation, works primarily in the area of gender, education, human rights, health, and child and youth development, among others.
As an extension to the Period of Sharing campaign, the organization started a celebration for menstruation called Maasika Mahostov which means celebration of menstruation in Hindi. The festival is a week dedicated to ending the cycle of shame surrounding menstrual hygiene management through sports and art, and normally coincides with Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28.
Bangera strongly feels that women should be part of decision-making in places of power and specifically in government, society, and religious institutions.
“More women need to be part of the government, more women involved in the decision-making process. Only then will the change trickle down to the grassroots level,” he said.
He wants governments to realize that ending period poverty does not end with just donating pads, there’s much more to it, like providing women with access to clean toilets and water to use.
5. Lolo Cynthia
Nigerian influencer Lolo Cynthia has made it her mission for women to have access to sanitary pads. In 2019 following her NoDayOff campaign — named to highlight that menstruation remains one of the most common reason for school absenteeism — Cynthia travelled across the country teaching young girls about reusable sanitary pads and how to make them from linen. The campaign helped administer 1,000 pads to women and girls in her community.
A study conducted by UNICEF revealed that school girls in three Nigerian states believe that menstruation “is a secret” and is unclean. According to the study, schoolgirls in Nigeria “faced many challenges which affected their ability to manage their menstruation in a dignified and hygienic way,” because of that belief.
Cynthia works to end the stigma with reusable pads and periods. When introducing the reusable pads two years ago she said many girls were not as accepting of the idea of reusable pads, as they did not want to be perceived to be poor because of the stigma reusable pads held in the society.
Cynthia is always at the forefront of conversations about periods and sexual health on Twitter, and she has created a blog LoloTalks to share information and education about menstruation and other topics too.
6. Jen Lewis
Jen Lewis is a “menstrual designer” from the US who brings artistry to menstrual activism by bringing out the beauty in blood. Lewis alongside her husband, photographer Rob Lewis, creates art pieces using her menstrual blood. The Beauty in Blood project started after Lewis was inspired by getting blood on her fingers while using a menstrual cup.
She and her husband create artwork with the menstrual blood and water. She says that she wanted to create pictures that evoke thought and make people see how each flow is, and bring out the beauty in the movement of liquid.
The artworks depict the motion the blood takes in the water in a clear vessel. As the blood is being poured into water, Jen’s partner photographs the change in movement in the water.
Lewis’s main goal is to end the taboos surrounding menstrual blood and raise awareness of the human rights that menstruating bodies are often denied.
7. Amos Katsekpor
Ghanian-born Amos Katsekpor uses his platform to bring awareness to period poverty (which you can read all about here) and aims to end menstrual taboos in southern and central Africa. He strongly believes that men and boys need to understand that menstruation is part of girls' and women's lives and should be involved in destigmatizing it.
“I hope for a future where men will proudly go to the pharmacy or supermarket to pick menstrual supplies for their daughters or wives and not be ashamed. I hope for a future where men will not stay away from their spouse or refrain from eating the meals they prepare because they are on their period,” he said in an interview with Washington Post platform The Lily.
Katsekpor joined an initiative for menstrual health, “Save the Red Days” that encourages women and girls to speak freely about their menstruation openly on social media platforms, and educates young girls about basic menstrual health. He joined the initiative, started by activist Binta Alhassan Kimba, to assist in bringing the conversations about menstruation to schools where there's a mixture of genders, in hopes of involving boys in the dialogue as well.
8. Milcah Hadida
Hadida is not only a volunteer for the Red Cross, but she also runs a campaign that is aimed towards ending period poverty by collecting sanitary pads from people around her community, which she then distributes to disadvantaged girls in the surrounding communities on a bicycle. In just a short space of five months, Hadida has impacted the lives of over 2,000 girls in her province.
The Kenyan activist plans on expanding her reach to more areas in the county, as at the moment she is only able to travel 30km a day with her bicycle and can only transport six boxes to young girls in need of sanitary towels each day.
9. Darius Covington
American content creator Darius Covington has made many videos about sanitary pads and menstruation. In April, he went viral on Twitter with a TikTok video of himself wearing a period pain stimulator, to experience what having a period feels like.
In the video Covington attached the period simulator to his abdomen while making eggs. He initially set the period simulator to three, which is relative to moderate period cramps, before eventually increased it to five, a higher pain level, which caused him to call to the kitchen floor. The video garnered a wide range of reactions from the platform, with many pleased that it helped raise awareness of just how painful periods can be.
In January he also raised $3,500 for pads, tampons, and sanitary wipes to donate to people experiencing homelessness.