By NIKKI GHAEMI
On October 19, Period.org held rallies in all 50 states, advocating for the erasure of menstrual stigma and for more widespread accessibility to period products. Seeing this large of a movement made me think about where period shame stands in my own life.
Menstruation is a topic shrouded in a history of stigma, and its effects are still just as present. Whether it be asking someone if the source of their frustration is because it’s “their time of the month” or if a girl tries to be discreet by quickly hiding a pad in her pocket before excusing herself to the restroom during class, chances are that you have participated in it. I know that I have even participated. But what I have learned is that stigma encourages people to point an accusatory, ridiculing finger toward women and that it even encourages women to do the same for themselves.
The stigma surrounding periods is still prevalent today. And that needs to change.
Menstrual taboos are embedded in traditions. Historically, in parts of Nepal and India, women have been banished from their homes and forced into small huts when they were menstruating, which stemmed from the belief that they were “impure”. The poor conditions of the huts left many women ill, and some even died. But the sheer humiliation was enough to make girls mortified when they began menstruating. Today, women are forbidden from entering Shinto shrines when they are menstruating, similarly, because they are considered to be “impure”. The Bible states that women undergoing menstruation are unclean. It’s evident that shame is certainly instilled in culture.
A lack of education can have harmful effects. When people, women and men alike, have limited knowledge on menstruation, it becomes less and less prioritized. 64% of girls from a rural section of Kenya reported their knowledge on puberty as being fair or poor and only 50% of girls report that they feel comfortable discussing menstruation. Lack of awareness and shame are directly linked, and create a damaging idea of something that is completely natural.
Logically, how is support – to a larger extent – expected to be offered if people don’t even have a basic understanding of how menstruation works? Stigma has the potential to be fully eradicated if all people are educated on the topic.
Additionally, the separation of girls and boys when discussing periods in school implies that periods are an uncomfortable topic, and lets misinformation spread among males. Stigma can’t be erased until all parties are fully educated on the topic. Periods are completely normal and natural, and a lack of basic understanding and the enabling of stigma surrounding them are harmful to all people that experience them.
The October 19 rallies were a step toward the right direction for period visibility. At UHS, Code Red is a club affiliated with the charities PERIOD and Days for Girls. Co-president and junior Susanna Matthew says they “aim to serve periods by providing both single use and reusable menstrual products to people in need, educating to eliminate taboos, and advocating for policy change to ensure a lasting impact for equitable access to period products. Basically, there are people out there that ask why women can’t hold in their periods, and that’s a result of us being unable to talk about periods without cringing or whispering.”
Tackling this issue has to start locally. Period products need to be offered and easily accessible in all UHS restrooms. The hassle of finding a hygiene product during an emergency isn’t worth cutting into class time and can cause those who are menstruating to feel uncomfortable. Offering hygiene products can create a more comfortable environment to discuss periods.
For something so widely dealt with, we cannot continue treating menstruation education as anything but a priority. Because it is.