Menstruation has been making headlines in mainstream media lately, and it's about bloody time.
From Rupi Kaur's infamous Instagram posts, to the successful abolition of the Tampon Tax; and most recently Kiran Gandhi running a marathon without wearing a tampon, and of course Donald Trump's comments about a female reporter bleeding from "wherever," it seems as though people are finally ready to get over the ick factor of periods.
"As I ran, I thought to myself about how women and men have both been effectively socialized to pretend periods don't exist. By establishing a norm of period-shaming, [male-preferring] societies effectively prevent the ability to bond over an experience that 50 per cent of us in the human population share monthly," - Kiran Gandhi
Menstruation is a natural occurrence in every woman's life, and yet, it is shrouded in some type of feminine mystery. Women will spend about 3,000 days of her life menstruating, and yet almost none talking about it. Girls are often taught from a young age that their cycle is their secret, not something to be openly discussed. We make up names to avoid saying "period" or "menstruation," We are visited by Aunt Flo, riding the crimson wave, on the rag, or experiencing "that time of the month." How many times have we hid our tampons up our sleeves while going to the bathroom at school or at work? How many girls in high school waited until the bathroom emptied out to change her pad, so no one would hear that distinct sound of the pad being pulled off her underwear, and exposing her secret? In a girls only bathroom.
It doesn't make any sense. Why is it that our society is so squeamish when it comes to periods? Gloria Steinem wisely wrote a powerful piece titled "If Men Could Menstruate" which outlined all the ways society would be different if biological roles were reversed. Her words are powerful, and true.
It's time to once and for all break the stigma.
While menstruation is a shared experience among women worldwide, it is also an example of a globally stigmatized issue. In many parts of the world, the customs and traditions surrounding menstruation are oppressive and destructive, and can severely limit a woman's daily life.
For women in countries like Kenya, the effects have the potential to change lives. Menstruation is a heavily stigmatized topic, with many communities often practicing harmful and oppressive customs related to menstruation. For example, in the Masai culture, menstruating girls are not allowed to interact with livestock, or consume any animal products for fear of contamination. For a nomadic culture that relies on its animals for survival, the message this sends to the girls is profound.
It teaches her that her body is unclean and inappropriate during her cycle. It teaches her that to menstruate is to feel shame. It keeps her out of school, prevents her from participating in daily activities, and affects her self-confidence. Menstruation is a top reason why girls in developing countries miss school, or drop out altogether.
These stigmas are born out of a lack of education about what menstruation actually is, and how the female body works. To educate is to empower, and the first step is to start an open conversation about the issue.
Femme International is a Canadian NGO that works to provide schoolgirls in East Africa with essential health education, with the goal of breaking down the stigma and empowering girls to stay in school - every day of the month. Make a donation to Femme's work, and help keep a girl in the classroom!
It is only through conversation and education that the taboo can finally be reduced. This is why the recent media buzz around the menstruation is so important! The conversations Rupi Kaur and Kiran Ghandi have inspired are having a ripple effect around the world, as countless blogs, interviews and websites are featuring their actions, and addressing the menstrual taboo.
The more we talk about menstruation in the news and media, the more it will be normalized and the less power the stigma will hold. For women in Canada, it will mean feeling more confident to open up and actually say the word 'period' in public. For women in Kenya, or India or Tanzania, it has the power to create a world of possibility. So let's keep the conversation going!
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