Whether we see it as a shameful experience or a rite of passage, people with uteruses all over the world are truly facing a huge problem: the lack of an open, more understanding dialogue when discussing menstruation. In countries all over the planet, regardless of whether they’re developed or still developing, women need more in terms of knowledge on, actions for and conversations about feminine hygiene and periods including a discussion on what having a period really means, without the age-old shame that we have attached to monthly bleeding. Although there’s been progress made on tackling the taboo and more voices speaking out, society needs an active movement and changes overall to normalize periods for good. How should we as a global community respond to periods, and should we instead celebrate when we start them?
We need to recognize that menstruation is a biological truth. Regardless of our silence surrounding it and the general disgust menstruating women face from their peers on the whole, periods are an undeniable fact of life and women everywhere should be supported and made to feel comfortable.
Truthfully, the disgust we face is as a result of the male gaze that is deeply embedded in our society. Instead of caring for and valuing the inner workings of a woman’s body, we’re instead drawn in by its sex appeal and at the merest mention or discussion of female genitals in a non-sexualized way, the patriarchy has taught us to feel disgust. As previously reported, Italy has introduced paid period-leave and it could serve to both help women who feel extreme pain, but may also discourage bosses from hiring female staffers, thus having the potential of damaging a woman’s career progress if thought about with a prejudiced outlook. Regardless of the cons, it is undoubtedly a step towards companies allowing for flexibility in regards to menstruation and is a lot more considerate.
This stigma towards periods is also regressive in other countries, to the extent where up to 88% of girls and women around the world don’t have access to sanitary products. The statistic underlines a shocking truth: women and girls aren’t getting the support they need in relation to periods and menstruation and the refusal to talk about it in developing countries can only make things worse. In some parts of India, women aren’t allowed to cook food or be in the kitchen when they’re on their periods, as some believe it will cause food to rot; in Bolivia, schoolgirls can sometimes carry used sanitary towels in their schoolbags during the day because they believe that period blood is so dangerous, it can cause cancer if mixed with other trash and in Africa, one in ten girls are missing from school every time they start menstruating for the month.
The stigma around periods reaches the disgusting point where women in Nepal are forced to live in cow sheds with live animals for the five days they menstruate in an ancient Hindu practice called Chhaupadi. Although outlawed in 2005, the practice has remained persistent in the western regions of the country, resulting in the deaths of 2 teenage girls in the past year and is carried out due to the belief that women on their periods aren’t clean and will become ill if they stay in their homes. The tradition is one that can only be described as painful, unhygienic, with risks of death or illness and adds to the emotional stress a woman may feel when she’s on her period, as they are unable to really eat or leave the shed until menstruation is over. The purpose of the ritual considered most important? To cure the “sins” a woman commits when she has her period.
By regarding periods as sinful we only make things brutally worse and communities themselves should strive to make education on periods and menstruation compulsory. Needless to say, periods are natural, periods are real and periods are a universal experience that should be considered completely normal. Perhaps if a woman was celebrated when she starts her period, women everywhere would have the chance to be more liberated and confident dealing with menstruation in later life.
Undeniably, in all four corners of the world, women are united in their struggle to have a heard voice (free from any destructive stigmas) and an open dialogue on their periods, which should no longer be a barrier for us today.
The solutions are as follows: wider availability of sanitary products worldwide so they aren’t considered a luxury, better sex education on what women face when they’re menstruating for all genders, and more global campaigns to raise awareness on menstruation for those in positions of power are needed. The recent Bodyform Blood advertisement (and their other Blood Normal one) took the world by storm, dividing opinions and causing controversy but more importantly, spreading the message of how normal periods themselves are and how women will still thrive extraordinarily and will continue to function to their fullest extents without their time of the month stopping them and actually being celebrated as an important change in a woman’s life. It goes without saying a woman is many things, but she can never be seen as just a period.
Image source: “The Secret Taboo” / Buddy Mantra