Dracula’s brew, shark week and Aunt Flow are all euphemisms for menstruation. The sheer variety of period 'nicknames' demonstrates how we really don’t like talking about periods. Menstruation is often seen as gross and cleanly despite the fact it is the most natural thing in the world. This is what we call 'period stigma'. Without menstruation, human life would not exist. So why do we as a society hate talking about periods and how do we change it?
The origins of the taboo
Anthropologists argue there is not one common source of period stigma but rather it stems from various sources. In religious texts such as the Quran and the Bible, ‘unclean’ and ‘impure’ are used to describe menstruating women, Men are also told to avoid women whilst they are on their period until they are ‘clean’ again. In one excerpt from on the earliest version of the Latin encyclopedia contact with menstrual blood is said to ‘turn wine sour’, makes dogs turn mad and ‘infects their bites with an incurable poison’. The suggestion that menstrual blood is destructive and dirty may sound completely ridiculous to us, but in reality, this is the crux as to why women and girls are still shamed for their periods today.
Period stigma in the 21st Century
1 in 10 girls, in the UK, between the ages of 14 and 21 can’t afford to buy sanitary products and nearly half of those girls have had to miss at least one day of school because of their period. It’s clear from these statistics that young girls don’t feel comfortable attending school whilst on their period, meaning it puts their education and school experience at jeopardy. If teachers were given the proper resources and training to help support their female pupils during their periods, then girls would not only be able to attend school but would also be in the safe knowledge that their period is normal.
Even outside of the UK, period stigma is affecting the daily lives of young women and girls. In India, over 70% of women don’t know what sanitary towels are and don’t know how to use one. Also, it isn’t uncommon for religious temples to display signs saying menstruating women can’t enter if they are menstruating. Period stigma has had a profound effect on women’s lives across the globe and will continue to do so if we don’t do something about it.
How we can combat period stigma
Firstly, just say it. Period. Using the 'time of the month', 'on the blob', or any other metaphor for menstruation only feeds period stigma even more. According to Sian O’Neill who is a councillor for Belfast City Council “we have to talk about periods in our social circles and in everyday life. We have to be able to say the word and talk about it freely in our homes.” Only then can we normalise period for good.
Another way you can help combat by period stigma is by supporting your local period collection box. The Red Box Project in the UK provides schools and colleges with red boxes filled with sanitary towels and tampons that students can have for free. This initiative not only helps young women and girls feel safe and supported whilst at school, it means they never have to miss a day of school due to lack of period products. There are also similar projects around the UK helping homeless women access free sanitary products. The Homeless Period campaigns for homeless women to receive sanitary towels and tampons that they need. You can sign their petition here and also follow them on twitter to see what projects and crowd funders are in your area to help them.
This year for our Black Friday Campaign, we wanted to take a stand against period stigma. We donated 100% of our Black Friday profits to the Sakhi Project, an initiative based in India which employs women to manufacture and sell their own sanitary towels. This amazing project not only helps women get access to sanitary towels which they need, but it also strives to educate men and women on menstruation to demystify the taboo surrounding periods. Check out our Black Friday page to see how we supported them.
Period stigma is harmful to all women, of all ages. This type of prejudice impedes women from being able to reach their full potential in their personal and professional lives, all because of something that is completely natural. Let’s make 2020 the year we say bye to period stigma, for good.
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