The other day I accidentally dropped a tampon in John Lewis while I was with my parents. I hadn’t noticed doing this, but my parents most definitely did. They had the most horrified look on their face as if I just whipped out a gun in the middle of the shop. It was so strange to me. It was just a tampon in which they’ve both most likely seen before, so why were they so shocked? I asked my mother why she was acting that way and she said, “Because we’re in public Halima.” This exact behavior shown by my parents enforced the stigma surrounding periods. While growing up, I was taught to be secretive about my period, that I should hide my tampon or pad when going to the toilet. Now that I’m older, I see no need to be ashamed of my body and its natural functions, but this is not the reality for a lot of people.
Some women menstruate and some don’t; for those who do, it’s a very common part of their life. However, menstruation is still globally stigmatized. Sadly, it’s a topic that people are constantly made to feel embarrassed about, a conversation to have in the dark rather than in the light. Due to the stigma, there are harmful and ruinous beliefs about menstruation all over the world. For example, in rural Venezuela women on their period are forced to sleep in special huts for the duration of their period, while in rural Ghana, those menstruating are forbidden to enter a building or house with a man or cook him food, and in many Southeast Asian communities, those menstruating are not allowed to use the same water facilities as the rest of the community in fear of contamination. Not only do women have to deal with the pain of periods but the shame of them too, which in a lot of cases can hurt a lot more than the actual physical pain. The stigma causes so much more than just shame and embarrassment though, Femme International, an organisation promoting women’s health through education, stated, “In East Africa, menstruation is one of the biggest reasons why adolescent girls miss school and in Kenya, girls will miss an average of 4 days of school each month – adding up to about 20% of the school year.” A lot of these young girls miss school due to a lack of access to sanitary pads. It’s hard enough in developing countries for girls to get an education but due to a lack of resources and the embarrassment of their own natural bodily function, they miss a lot of invaluable school time. Although this is especially eminent in developing countries, it happens elsewhere as well. The British Independent reported in March that, “British girls from low-income families skip school during periods because they can not afford sanitary products.” There’s such a shame and worry about visibly bleeding at school that if they can’t afford sanitary products they’d much rather not go at all. This isn’t right.
However, model and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova is trying to combat this stigma. Recently, she wrote an article for British Vogue titled, “Let’s Talk About Periods” which is an initiative launched by FLO, the women’s health app. In the article, she discusses her own experiences living in the Soviet Union, “I was born in the Soviet Union and we didn’t talk about sex – I never went to a gynecologist before I got pregnant. Ok, I got pregnant very early on – I was 19, but still. There’s such a lack of information.” She also states some hardcore facts about the stigma surrounding women’s health in general, “In Nepal, women are forced to stay away from their families while on their period as they are seen as dirty, and in India, only 12% of women have access to pads and tampons.” Education and discussion are the keys to end this stigma and that is exactly what Natalia plans to do. She’s chosen to invest in FLO, help them educate people and fundraise, so they can give back to these communities, and provide those menstruating with the essentials they need.
But what can we do to eliminate this stigma, and help others around the world? Well, there’s a number of organizations you can donate to, to provide sanitary products for those who can’t access them:
If you would like to learn more about menstruation, the websites above are very helpful but as we live in the age of Youtube here are two really incredible YouTubers giving you the 411 on periods:
Don’t hide your sanitary products when you’re going to the toilet, walk to that toilet with your head held high thinking ‘heck yeah! My body is awesome and it does awesome things’. When it comes to eliminating the stigma, one of the easiest most powerful things you can do is talk about it, discuss it, analyze it, debate it. The more open we are about our periods the less of a taboo they will be, Join the conversation.
Written by Halima Anita
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