Periods: Breaking The Taboo
Why are periods such a taboo? That “time of the month” we utter in hushed tones. Hiding our cramps and headaches. Sneaking to office loos with tampax hidden in our pockets. Yet, it’s an entirely natural and biological process women have always gone through. In fact, the average woman menstruates for 3,000 days in her lifetime. That’s an epic 8.2 years! Yes, maybe it would be better if we could bypass it altogether and not have all the uncomfort and hassle it can bring. But periods are here to stay. So why are they a no-go in conversation! Plan International’s research shows, a huge 64% of women in the UK would feel uncomfortable discussing their period with their male friend; and while, it’s not necessarily something we even want to be talking about all the time, we hope one day we’re not sneaking around about it.
Looking out on an international scale highlights how shocking the statistics surrounding periods are further. 3 out of 10 girls in India are not aware what menstruation is when they have their first period, with figures as high as 9 out of 10 in some areas of Raghastan. In her TedxGatewayWomen Talk, standing up for a taboo-free way of talking about periods, Aditi Gupta admits about growing up:
Unesco revealed that only 12% of women and girls in India have access to sanitary products, and having lived with this reality, Aditi describes using rags and the health issues it brought along with it. Along with her peers, she would be stopped from eating certain things, she couldn’t sit on the sofa, she had to wash her bed-sheets every day, and, considered impure, was forbidden from worshipping or touching any object of religious importance. With at least 85% of girls in India following these restrictions, breaking away from this patriarchal order is no easy task. There’s then the intense shame that it brings. Further research found that 90% of girls in rural areas of Ghana felt ashamed during their period, while 1 in 10 girls in Africa miss school when they have their period. In Uganda, it was found that of the 18% of girls that left school before graduating, almost 5 girls in 10 didn’t go to school because the schools didn’t have proper water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. This is a completely natural process, we have always had to go through and will continue to live with, and yet the shame it brings has such damaging consequences. And this shame is closer to home than we think. Sanitary products aren’t cheap and many girls at a young age just don’t have the means to buy them. “Period Poverty” is a thing and its affecting girls in the UK.
So what can we do about it? How can we target this sense of shame? Where’s the source?
If almost half of women in the UK said they felt uncomfortable discussing their period with female teachers when at school, and up to 75% with male teachers, it’s clear we need to remove the stigma from a young age. As adults, we have a responsibility. Be this as a parent, an older sister, brother, or teacher. Aditi talks about the influence of her elders and the passing on of rules and restrictions without question. But it needs a generation to make a stand, even if they’ve had to suffer. As individuals we can take responsibility, but there needs to be a sense of togetherness. And as Bodyform’s recent advert shows, depicting red ‘blood’ in their advert for the first time, it’s time for change, together.
Being on your period doesn't make you weak. It shouldn't make you feel shameful. It makes you a human being!
Words by Lottie Franklin