I was 12 when I had my first period. It was a hot summer day when I noticed the bloodstains on my underwear. I remember screaming for my mom. Little did I know that I was beginning a long journey of silence, fear, and shame. The next day at school, at the very mention of the word ‘period’, I would watch people flinch and turn away. And I always wonder how we created a world where people feel so ashamed by the most natural function of the womb, though the womb was once a place they called home.
From ‘Time of the month’ to ‘Aunt Flo’, how much longer will we avoid saying the word ‘period’?
These code words perpetuate the stigmatization surrounding periods, making them a “taboo” subject. People who menstruate are taught from an early age to hide their periods, resulting in a negative impact where girls feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk about their periods, and they can then suffer health implications as a consequence.
On any given day, 800 million people around the world are on their period and with each person who menstruates, shame follows. Around the world, menstruation is a topic left out of most conservations. In Nepal, for example, menstruating women are seen as impure by their community and isolated to huts during their cycles. This behavior instills long-term shame and fear into girls, women, and anyone who menstruates. We skip school to avoid the teasing and constant embarrassment of reaching for a pad or tampon from our bag; we hide pads and tampons up our sleeves and apologetically whisper about this ‘time of the month’. At some point, we must put an end to this stigmatization.
At least 50% of the population menstruates, this includes girls, women, transgender and gender-nonconforming people. And only 6% of people who menstruate feel positive about menstruation.
“Menstruation is a natural human bodily process.
It is as natural as breathing, sleeping or digesting food.”
Period stigmatization intensifies period poverty, which affects millions of people who menstruate all around the world. Because of menstrual stigma, period poverty is often ignored. Period poverty is when people who menstruate have limited access to menstrual care, including, access to menstrual products, education on menstruation and health and facilities such as toilets, clean water, and waste management. People all around the world, especially in third world countries such as India, Albania, and Brazil, where there is a lack of easily accessible menstruation products and education, are often forced to choose between food for their families or menstruation products for their daughters.
In India, only 12% of menstruators have access to sanitary products, leaving the rest to use unsafe materials like rags and sawdust as an alternative; while in the U.S. alone, roughly 20% of girls have missed school because they couldn’t afford menstruation products. Without the proper access to pads, tampons, and other period products, girls will usually resort to folded pieces of toilet paper or a sock. While these aren’t life- threatening alternatives to period products, they amplify the stigmatization and lead to improper period education, which can cause serious health issues.
A lack of period education can cause poor menstrual hygiene, which results in physical health risks and has been linked to reproductive and urinary tract infections. It also stops women from reaching their full potential when they miss out on opportunities crucial to their growth. Young girls and other people who menstruate who aren’t able to receive proper menstrual education are more likely to enter child marriages, experience early pregnancy, domestic violence, and pregnancy complications as a result.
“Period Power: We must embrace our periods and break the taboo”
The first step in a long journey to destigmatize the taboo and normalize menstruation is to understand the stigma. Once we begin to identify and accept the issue and experience, we can work to destroy period stigmatization for good. However, dismantling society’s mentality towards periods won’t be so simple.
To change society’s perception of us, we must commit to changing our own. No matter what we were taught, how we were raised, or what slight feelings of shame have been drilled into our heads; we need to dissociate the negativity that surrounds periods. This is a time of feminine consciousness and it’s a chance for girls, women, and anyone who menstruates to own who we are and recognize the power we hold. Periods are something we should be proud of and something to be proud to talk about. Once we openly begin to talk about menstruation, we will release the feelings of isolation that accompany periods.
We can destroy the stigma. There’s a feeling of power, connection, and community, when we share these experiences and find that there are so many others who have feared someone would hear the crinkles of a pad wrapper, or constantly worried about period stains, we are not alone and we should speak freely about our bodies. When we speak freely, we can begin to realize the power of our periods, begin to appreciate them, and manage them with pride.