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If you’re a woman, you most likely have at least one embarrassing, mortifying, or straight-up traumatizing menstruation story. (And if you’re a man, you probably think that sentence qualifies as your most traumatizing, but stay with me - it gets worse). No-holds-barred, let me tell you about my menarche - I began my period during my seventh grade at school. Sheepish, I was too shy to ask my lady classmates for a pad. Instead, I prayed the whole day I wouldn’t bleed through my jeans. I skirted around walls until the final bell rang, and then darted home like a nervous squirrel, jacket tied around my waste. Bolting through the front door, I squeaked out, “My period started!” My mom, dressed in a hemp shirt, sauntered to greet me, earth-goddess embodied, and exclaimed, “You’re a woman now!” It was all too much - I broke down in sobs.
Albeit freaking out over my first period, I was well prepared for “womanhood” by my sex positive, hippie parents who were direct with body talk. I knew what to expect when my period came. I had the support of my family, and an abundance of pads and tampons (though unfortunately not with me that fateful day in seventh grade). I didn’t need to think very much about my monthly cycles.
But this isn’t the case for millions of women living around the globe, particularly low-income and impoverished women. For many women, menstruation means ostracization, feelings of shame, or straight-up discrimination.
I think us women need to speak about our femaleness, and this starts with breaking the taboo surrounding menstruation. Recently, a number of different campaigns have focused on menstruation education, and access to feminine hygiene products.
So, let’s sync cycles (you too, guys) and ride the crimson wave together as we learn more about Aunt Flo.
1. It’s a fact: A lot of women are on their periods – right now
In the United States alone, there are 73 million women menstruating right now, according to Alyssa Beer, author of the zine Menstruation Sensation. With so many women sporting the red badge of courage, it’s time for people to stop being freaked out about the thought of Mother Nature’s monthly gift to womankind.
2. Shaming of menstruation and feminine hygiene products
Think about the way in which feminine hygiene products are sold and advertised – trendy boxes, bright colors, sleek packaging. It’s messaging that says to women: in order to lessen the shame that comes from having a period, you need to buy “stylish” tampons and pads. I, for one, don’t need (or really want) fashionable sanitary products to embrace my period. I can love my womanliness without a pastel tampon.
3. Spawning (ha) innovative social enterprises
Companies like LunaPads created Pads4Girls, a campaign that provides in-kind donations of menstrual products in low-income areas. Another organization, She, helps women start businesses to create and sell affordable pads. Charities are picking up some of the slack in rural communities to provide sanitation. It’s terrific for private companies and social enterprises to pick up slack, but governments need to better support women’s health concerns. Show a sister some love, and subsidize those pads!
4. Stigmatization of menstruation
In an article published by the blog Jezebel entitled “What Life Is Like When Getting Your Period Means You Are Shunned,” the life of a Nepalese 16-year-old named Radha was profiled. She, like other women in her village, could “not enter her house or eat anything but boiled rice” when she was on her period. When menstruating, Radha was not allowed to touch other people, because she’d “pollute them” and perhaps make them sick. This type of misconception around menstruation is common across the world. Globally, we should be changing our collective attitudes towards women’s reproductive systems. Instead of defaulting to “gross” when the subject of the red baron arises, we, global citizens, should be celebrating healthy womanhood. Love your blood - we’re all moon goddesses.
5. How menstruation is managed globally (hint - not well)
Across the world, menstruation can be a debilitating, even deadly, problem to manage – fueled by a combination of poverty, misinformation, stigma and superstition. In India, menstrual hygiene is linked to high rates of cervical cancer. One in ten girls in Africamisses school for the duration of her period each month. Infections caused from contaminated rags are prevalent in Bangladesh. Menstruation does not need to cause woman’s life to be put at risk. Building latrines, promoting hygiene, and including men in “female troubles” can help safeguard women’s health.
6. Living in poverty and access to feminine hygiene products
Periods aren’t cheap. A year’s supplies of tampons in the United States can cost upwards of $70. For homeless women, the issue of lack of access to sanitary napkins is made even more extreme by “minimal access to safe sanitary spaces”like showers and toilets.
Further, within the United States, food-stamps don’t cover pads and tampons, resulting in women selling their SNAPS benefits in order to buy these necessary items. Prisons are also failing women’s health - with some systems not having the money to supply female inmates with feminine hygiene products.
7. Grassroots involvement for change
Change begins at a community level. Progress is being made by creative community organizations. An example of compassionate innovation is Emma and Quinn Joy, two sisters based in New Jersey who recently founded Girls Helping Girls. Period. The organization works to ensure that women have the products they need, when they need them - like pads and tampons. Home grown initiatives can take the lead in creating healthcare equality. Other organizations advancing women’s rights and choices, and access to feminine hygiene products include Donate Pads.org,The Period Project, and Tampon Tuesday. Interested in taking action within your own community? Consider starting a tampon drive. It’s easy and the results will be meaningful.
8. It’s a human right - period (ha)
Feminine hygiene products are critical for health and full participation of women and girls across the globe. Both the United Nations and Human Rights Watch have linked menstrual hygiene to human rights. Jyoti Sanghera, chief of the UN Human Rights Office on Economic and Social Issues, called the stigma around menstrual hygiene “a violation of several human rights, most importantly the right to human dignity.”
The bottom line: women’s health matters. Supporting education on menstruation, access to female specific health care will help to eradicate misconceptions related to reproductive health. It’s true, anti-female prejudices exist widely and aggressively, but by respecting the biology of women, progress can be made. Though Mother Nature’s monthly visitation may be a nuisance, menstruation isn’t a “curse.” By dispelling myths and having frank conversations surrounding reproduction, women, and men, will feel empowered by having increased understanding and knowledge.
Ladies and gents, I wanna hear your stories about menstration! Share your experiences in the comments!