Periods Are Normal. Period.
By: Sia Minhas, Contributing Writer
Edited by Valeri Guevarra, Founder/Executive Director
Menarche. A miraculous milestone. The first period. It is the beginning of a menstruator’s life. Yet, this biological process that has been around forever is still a taboo subject for society. Period stigma is real and evident. The shame in having a period product out in the open while walking to the bathroom during school. Many wince as you unwrap a pad or tampon, loudly making noise, making the fact that someone is on their period, evident to everyone in the restroom. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. In Venezuela, menstruators are forced to live in huts during the time they menstruate. In Ghana, menstruators aren’t allowed to enter a home with a man or even cook food. Many don’t even have access to sanitary products. Menstruators are ashamed of a biological process. A key part of our life, of our bodies, of us.
Working Towards Ending Period Stigma
I recently spoke to Chesley Chan (Community Director) and Claudia Ovejero (Community Leader) of both the Inner Cycle community (on the app Geneva) and the “ItsAugust” community focused on periods/period stigma. Their work within the community has been an integral part of discussions of period stigma and creating an inclusive space for menstruators worldwide. I use the term menstruator, a term I first heard when joining the Inner Cycle community to be inclusive to all who experience menstrual cycles, not just assigned female at birth (AFAB) women.
We began with the questions “Why do you think there is so much period stigma around the world?” and “Why is it so taboo?” Chesley gives her insight, speaking on our social circles and where we rely on the information surrounding periods. “I really think it comes to education or lack thereof, right? When we think of education, we learn so much about our world from--We can categorize it, we can say, okay, our family, our immediate community around us, school and then the media.” Chesley says that our family is our “direct source of information” and she’s right. Rutgers International writes, “Young girls often grow up with limited knowledge of menstruation because their mothers and other women shy away from discussing the issue with them” (UKAID). Menstruators tend to grow up uneducated on their bodies, not just on periods but virtually every topic concerning their bodies because family members find the subject taboo and awkward to speak about with others.
She also brings up that period stigma isn’t apparent “We don’t outright say ‘this is stigmatized.’ It’s not that explicit”. She thinks what is most important are the implicit ways that we pass down this information to menstruators. She also says that period stigma is damaging to our bodies. Jill Litman, working with Berkeley, says, “Because of the taboos surrounding menstruation in many parts of the world, there is a significant lack of health education resources available to people about the menstrual cycle. It is this lack of knowledge that fuels myths which ostracize and humiliate women during their monthly cycles” (Litman). When there’s misinformation or a lack of information, there is a cycle of stigma, humiliation, and unawareness that affects menstruators worldwide.
Claudia spoke on the topic as well, bringing up, “A lot of it has to do with shaming women and controlling women’s bodies.” Many practices exist that control the way women and menstruators go about their lives while menstruating. NPR wrote an article on menstrual huts or “Chhaupadi.” An approach Claudia, Chesley, and I briefly spoke on in the interview but something they’ve spoken on before. Chhaupadi is the practice of sending menstruators to huts/sheds during menstruation because menstruating is viewed as being unclean. The practice is illegal in Nepal, where it’s primarily practiced, but it’s still being done. It’s approximated that seven women are killed every year in Nepal due to these practices. The reason, according to NPR, is that they are susceptible to snake bites, physical assault, freezing temperatures, and suffocation due to lack of ventilation. Other menstruators even enforce the rule. “Menstrual taboos, the study found, are ‘most keenly enforced’ by older family members, ‘including mothers, grandmothers and other senior women,’ as well as religious leaders and traditional healers.”
What was mentioned before, lack of education or the mediums in which we receive education, significantly impact how we perceive periods. This shame has been so heavily ingrained in society that it is unlikely it will cease to exist in our lifetime. However, as we advocate for change with platforms like Inner Cycle and ItsAugust, it is foreseeable that we can start more conversations around periods and create necessary change. Speaking about your period should never be shameful. It’s important to start conversations and be open about this natural biological process that has been stigmatized for thousands of years to help further destigmatize these things.