Why not talking about our periods creates confusion, oppression, and societal harm
It shouldn't be awkward, yet centuries of misinformation leave an unrelenting stigma on a perfectly natural event— furthering inequality gaps within societies across the world. Painful side effects aren't just felt each month but in everyday social, educational, and financial systems worldwide. Let's disrupt the silence to close the gap. After all, everybody bleeds.
Few topics are as globally hushed away as menstruation—teaching half the world’s population to feel inferiority and shame for their own biology. Our ability to address menstrual health management is directly impacted by attitudes surrounding it.
The taboo surrounding periods is no hyperbole or exaggeration. In fact, it’s practically the mother of all taboos—originating our entire cultural understanding of the concept.
While the concept has existed for centuries across cultures, the English root for "taboo" comes from the Polynesian word "tapua", which literally means menstruation.
Many current cultural stigmas originated from religious belief, with all major religions stating women on their periods are unclean—spiritually, physically or both—and unfit for ceremonial practice or daily behavior.
Although adherence varies, general religious teachings perpetuate:
(abstinence during menstruation)
(no public discussion)
(abstinence during menstruation)
(no public discussion)
You Can’t Do That
“When the menstrual cycle is described as a hormonal roller coaster that turns women into angry beasts, it becomes easy to question the competence of all women. […] When we think about who makes for a good CEO or senator, someone who has qualities like rationality, steadiness, competence come to mind, and in our culture, that sounds more like a man than a woman, and the PMS myth contributes to that.”
Robyn Stein DeLuca, TED Talk,
“The good news about PMS”
Women currently hold only 4% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies.
It should be a mild annoyance at worst, yet for too many young girls, having her period can be a detriment to her mind and body.
Shame + Inadequate Knowledge + Insufficient Care = Poor Quality of Life
Why the Surprise?
Scientifically, we all know it’s coming, yet inadequate menstrual health education is a widespread global epidemic. With timely and accurate information, young girls and women can feel comfortable and confident about their change in biology.
Clue’s international investigation into period discussion found that:
of respondents in Russia and
in Belarus received no education or information about starting their period.
UNICEF India found that:
of girls reported feeling unprepared for menstruation.
Sources: “Talking About Periods—An International Investigation,” 2015, Clue; “WASH in Schools Empowers Girls’ Education Proceedings of the Menstrual Hygiene Management in Schools Virtual Conference 2014,” UNICEF
Millions of young women worldwide miss school each year because of their periods. Yet it is easily preventable—as a study of Ghana’s education system found that free sanitary pads and puberty education substantially increased girls’ attendance.
1 in 10
African girls misses school during her menses, which contributes to a higher school dropout rate.
of girls in West Africa’s Burkina Faso have nowhere to change their sanitary napkins at school.
Clean water, toilets, and sanitary products are critical to taking care of ourselves. So, what happens when you can’t meet these most basic needs? For many, sanitary items are costly, inhibiting women around the world from purchasing these necessities.
With most governments taxing sanitary products as “luxury items,” half the population must allocate extra funds for these necessities each month—which has many people rethinking the classification. After much petitioning and debate, the Europe Union voted in March 2016 to allow members to reduce their value-added tax (VAT) rates, paving the way for the United Kingdom to eliminate its controversial “tampon tax” altogether.
Luxury product VAT rates across EU member states
“I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”
Unites States President Obama,
echoing these sentiments
All Your Wages
for a Tampon
While many women routinely add boxes of tampons and pads to their monthly grocery lists, others must forego using sanitary products because they simply can’t afford them.
of girls interviewed in a sub-Saharan African study said they didn’t use commercial sanitary products because of cost.
65-120 Kenyan Shillings
Sanitary towel cost in Kenya, where the average daily income is just over $1/day.
Who Has the Right?
What do you do you when you live on no budget or access to the outside world? Incarcerated women across the United States are shedding light on an alarming reality: Inadequate prison sanitary product supplies create unhealthy inmate conditions.
of inmates are unable to afford to pay for maxi pads, inhibiting their ability to change their pads as often as they should during their cycle.
women in U.S. federal prisons as of March 2016.
Not My Problem
Another population often left without sanitary products are homeless women. Many resort to using rags to prevent bleeding through their clothes, as sanitary items are often overlooked in homeless shelter donations.
days of a woman’s life, on average, is spent menstruating.
1 in 10
Estimated number of female “rough sleepers” in London, U.K. (those living and sleeping on the streets with no home).
If we don’t talk about it, we’ll never improve. Shifting conversations in social and civic settings depends on us—to push for broader access, better education, and more understanding for all.
New Approaches to Same Old Problems
Queens, New York, Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland sponsored a bill aimed at providing free sanitary products to women and girls in public middle schools, high schools, city jails, and homeless shelters.
girls would gain access to free sanitary products.
Yearly program estimated state cost
Bettering Business for All
Asian nations lead the charge on paid menstrual leave, as laws in Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, and several other countries offer period-related sick leave outside regularly offered illness benefits. More companies worldwide are slowly following suit.
of women surveyed in an international investigation on menstrual health’s social effects said they’ve missed work, school, or other obligations during their periods for fear of its discovery.
It Starts with Inclusion
As grassroots efforts join the conversation to spread menstrual health awareness, dissolving stigmas and spreading accurate information starts with how we think about, discuss, and perpetuate the topic in our daily lives. Keep an eye out for organizations making a difference today.
Menstrual Hygiene Day
In 2014, Berlin-based WASH United initiated Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28) as a global platform to break taboos and promote awareness for menstruation and menstrual hygiene. Menstrual Hygiene Day currently has more than 380 partner organizations from all over the world. The theme for 2016 is "menstruation matters to everyone, everywhere". Learn more at menstrualhygieneday.org.
Transgender and Intersex Community Awareness
Thinx antimicrobial absorbent underwear manufacturer expanded its product line and target marketing to ensure inclusion and accessibility for all people who menstruate.