This is a series of posts in partnership with PERIOD.org for National Period Day.
It’s a color that’s deeply embedded in history, literature, and human emotion. The color has an element that evokes a thousand emotions at once: love, loss, danger, boldness and excitement. But, once a month, nearly all women around the world have the same type of reaction to this color: dread. A looming sense of dread, disappointment, uncertainty and anger often accompanies that first speck of red.
The menstrual cycle (aka a period) is a topic that is immersed in social, political and emotional context when it simply should be a fact of life. Periods are the result of the uterus’ lining getting thicker with tissue and ovaries releasing an egg every month. If no sperm fertilizes the egg, the tissue breaks down, thus causing bleeding through the vagina.
Simple as it is, some women around the world are fighting for access to period products, the right to be dignified and even to exist in society during this time. Period poverty, period equity, period tax and period stigma are some terms that have been tossed around to describe the fight to a dignified period.
According to Fortune Magazine, 70% of American states still place a sales tax on feminine hygiene products. Two million and three hundred thousand women internationally lack access to basic sanitation services. Only one country, Scotland, has made sanitary products free in public washrooms. There’s clearly a problem if a single country believes that it’s a basic human right to have access to sanitary products. Living in Canada, I’ve been privileged enough to have tax-free access to sanitary products, so I can’t speak for the women who struggle economically for basic necessities during their period. But, what I can speak for is the stigma and the culture that encourages concealment of a woman's menstrual cycle.
Entering adolescence, the word "period" was spoken in hushed whispers at school. In gym class, no girl wanted to ask a male teacher if they could sit out due to period pain. Going to the washroom with a pad or tampon played out like a spy movie: pads stuffed up our sleeves, tampons in pencil cases, and god knows where else we hid them.
The worst part was asking for pads or tampons. I remember writing out what I needed just so that the boys beside me wouldn’t hear. Even as I’m in high school, the situation has barely changed. Why is it that subjects like drugs are spoken about freely while something that affects over half of the population still evokes blushes and whispers?
It’s not just third-world countries that cloud the subject of periods in secrecy, it’s developed countries as well. In this culture of secrecy, we lose our ability to ask for assistance and talk about our troubles with others. In a way, this is oppression. When I think about how the stigma around periods hurts women, I can’t help but think how much worse it must be to not be able to afford the products needed during this time.
As women and girls, we can all help in eliminating the period problem; the stigma and lack of access to period products. Here’s how you can help:
Support organizations like Period.org and Girlz FTW!
There are countless organizations that distribute period products to women in need locally and globally. They also educate and empower women about their menstrual health. You can support them by directly donating or volunteering to help eliminate menstrual-related problems.
Sign petitions to make feminine hygiene products tax-free in the US (and around the world)
Call upon your state legislators and government to end taxes on period products. There are multiple petitions online that you can sign to end this problem. You can also write letters to government officials or organize protests to demand the right to hygiene.
Host a gathering or party to celebrate and start meaningful conversations around menstrual health.
Gather your community to talk about menstrual health. Whether it’s a party or a conference, take the opportunity to start conversations about a topic that we don’t talk about enough. Through conversation, you can eliminate the embarrassment and shame of periods.
Let’s make the color red worth celebrating again. Although it’s a pain (literally and figuratively), we can all make the monthly occurrence a better experience for ourselves and other females around the world.