The Gift of Menstruation: Breaking the Stigma
Photo Credit: Polina Zimmerman/Pexels
We have accomplished so much when it comes to women’s rights and gender equality. From having the right to vote to the FDA approval of birth control in 1960, from the Equal Pay Act in 1963 prohibiting sex-based wage discrimination to the first female to hold office as Vice President of the United States in 2021. The accomplishments are bountiful (for a selected timeline, click here).
But with that all said, our work is not over — especially when it comes to menstruation and the underlying stigma imposed by society.
You Can Create Life!
As most women know (and few men do) when a woman gets her period, it’s a biological function in which the body prepares for pregnancy. And if no pregnancy occurs, the uterus, or womb, sheds its lining. The menstrual blood is partly blood and partly tissue from inside the uterus. So essentially, getting your period is an indicator that you can create life!
Menstruation is a gift. It’s a gift that allows a female to create life.
Even though half of the world’s population experiences menstruation, getting your period is perceived as a problem. The euphemisms are endless — "that time of the month," "Code Red," "monthly visitor," "lady time," just to name a few.
And depending on what part of the world you live in, you are ostracized during that “time of the month.” In Venezuela, women are forced to sleep in huts for the duration of their cycle. In Ghana, menstruating women are forbidden from cooking food or entering a house with a man. And in India, menstruating women are considered impure and are excluded from social and religious events, denied entry into temples, shrines, and even kitchens.
Personally speaking, I’ve been guilty of hiding when I have my period. I’ll tuck my tampon up my sleeve or put a maxi pad in my bag and make an excuse to go to the bathroom, so as not to bring attention to the fact that I’m menstruating. I even remember having conversations with my Muslim mother about getting my period, how I couldn’t pray anymore when I had it, and then I had to read a special prayer after my period was over so that I could become pure again. I never really understood that and nor do I pretend to today.
So even though we’ve made so many amazing advancements when it comes to gender equality, overcoming the stigma around menstruation will take more than a couple of articles and posts on social media. It will require a movement that focuses on:
The first step is to have open and meaningful dialogue around menstruation and the impact that it has on a young girl’s confidence, her access to school and advanced education opportunities, and the silent burden she carries for the rest of her life.
Education for All
Educators need to teach girls about menstruation, where they can find supplies, and how to deal with the discomfort of cramps and pain. Educators also need to debunk superstitions passed down through generations due to menstrual taboos in religions and cultures.
Access to Sanitary Products
Not every woman has access to clean sanitary products during her period. Some use newspapers, rags, old towels, etc., and often worry if they soil their clothes.
To learn more about ending period stigma, check out Period, a global nonprofit organization fighting to end period poverty and stigma through service, education, and advocacy.
Menstruation is a gift. It’s a gift that allows a female to create life. And through creating that life, she’s creating humans that create meaningful change and impact. What if, through that life, this human figures out how to cure cancer, solves global warming, or helps an old woman cross the street … the possibilities are endless. That is menstruation.
This post is part of a month-long March CircleAround series, tied to Women's History Month — the first since the global pandemic that has disproportionately impacted women around the world — in which we asked writers to explore the topic of women's history in America, from the past to very much the present. To see all the posts in the series — including relevant news stories — visit here. And if you'd like to contribute to the series, send us your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or post on our "2021 Inspiration Wall."