Periods: An Overdue Conversation

The first time I came to know that women menstruate was when I heard a conversation between my aunt and her friend. I remember coming back home and asking my mom:

“Do women really bleed every month?”

The moment I asked the question, two things happened:

1. I was told to lower my voice because my male cousin was in the kitchen and he could hear us
2. My male cousin started coughing to signal that he can in fact hear us

It was then that I first came face-to-face with period shaming. But back then I was a kid. A kid who followed the rules and did what she was told. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that I spent the next decade or so associating periods with shame and embarrassment.

But why is that? Why do family, friends and society as a whole treat periods as something shameful? Why should I, as a 24 year old woman, have to be embarrassed every time I get my period? 

The simple short answer is that over the past decades, society began to view menstruation as an undesirable act. From a very young age, girls are taught that it is shameful to talk about their periods openly. And these young girls soon turn into adults who are embarrassed and ashamed of one of the most important parts of being a woman. The lack of open conversations about a natural part of human biology contributes to the idea that there is something shameful when it comes to menstrual cycles.

According to a study done by innovative menstruation solution company, THINX, 44% of men say they made jokes about their partner’s mood when on a period. Not only that, but 51% of men say that they consider talking about menstruation at the office inappropriate. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that 58% of women said they experienced a sense of embarrassment simply because they were on their periods. While 73% say they had to hide their pad or tampon on their way to the bathroom.

However, period shaming goes beyond just making women feel embarrassed, ashamed and uncomfortable, because it can also have its toll on our mental health. Living in a constant state of shame and fear can be triggering from some people. Furthermore, those who do not have access to sanitary products are at a higher risk of developing severe depression says a study. And those living in impoverished rural areas, where they do not have access to water and sanitation, have to endure gender-discrimination and double the stigma. This on its own is a violation of basic human rights!

If you really look at it, it all comes down to the lack of education and conversation about important topics such as menstruation. Therefore, it is imperative that educational institutes, governments and even families work on educating their children about menstruation and raising awareness. The only way everyone can have access to sanitary period products, feel shame-free and comfortable in their own skin, is when the world starts to openly talk about it.

It has been years since I was told to lower my voice, but I no longer will. It is only through creating and normalizing conversations about menstruation can the stigma be broken.

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