Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Every individual who has periods has a horror story- whether that be a monthly nightmare, a one-off incident or the time they started. Yet, there is a severe lack of representation and public discourse around something that has a huge impact on the lives of over half the population.
The stigma around periods is still alive and kicking- who hasn’t stuffed a tampon up their shirt sleeve or come up with an elaborate code for ‘the time of the month?’ Who hasn’t watched men squirm at a period product advert or gasped at the price of products in shops? Who hasn’t felt ashamed to admit that they are simply in too much pain? The list is endless. Not only is there a societal stigma but there are multiple issues with periods- from lack of medical care for those with severe pain or certain conditions, period poverty and lack of access to products (thankfully the period tax in the UK has recently been scrapped) , no workplace provisions for those who need it and unsafe and harmful ingredients in mainstream products. So much work needs to be done and so many conversations need to happen.
I had my first period aged nine and then didn’t have another until I was eleven. When I first started, I remember telling one of my mates and a boy in my year overhearing. I was called dirty and laughed at. Luckily a teacher overheard, and we were given emergency sex ed and I felt a lot better (what’s that I hear? Sex education should include a wider education around the different experiences of menstruation as well as a wide range of other things? You are completely right!)
My period experiences didn’t and haven’t stopped there. When I turned 13 my cramps became unbearable, so I was prescribed a painkiller called mefenamic acid which I have now been on for seven years. It makes me feel so sick, but at least I can walk right? I often have to take paracetamol alongside it to even be able to fathom sleep. I’m not about to pull the ‘woe is me’ card here because I’m lucky I have access to these painkillers even with their issues.
Many around the world aren’t in this position. An article from the website The Conversation cites research that tells us ‘under 14% of respondents said they had taken time off from work or school during their periods, more than 80% said they had continued to work or study while feeling unwell, and were less productive as a result.’ This leaves us with a burning gap in society- how are we continuing to stigmatise a pain so bad that 80 percent of women feel impacted on their ability to work? Periods are normal and for a large chunk of us happen every single month in our working lives- I can’t help thinking that to ignore this is a glaring injustice.
Of course, this is an issue in and of itself, but it is also one that requires a look at poverty. Substantive sick pay or leave is hard enough to come by for serious and chronic conditions especially for those in lower paid jobs and on top of this period pain is often not seen as legitimate enough to garner the need for leave. Not every individual may feel the need for this, but it seems that there is a significant amount of reason to at least consider it – from severe pain to PCO to endometriosis every experience of a period is different and significant enough to be added to the conversation.
Some campaigns have advocated for workplace adjustments or the ability to work from home during a period- options that seem sensible and bring us away from the all or nothing thinking of in work or out of work. All of these options have been the subject of many a debate and rightly so, leaving us with an interesting and needed conversation.
‘More than 12 million female refugees in the world have little or no sanitary protection’
‘48% of girls aged 14-21 in the UK were embarrassed by their periods.’
‘14% of girls admitted that they did not know what was happening when they started their period and 26% reported that they did not know what to do when they started their period.'
‘78% of girls didn't feel comfortable discussing their period with their teacher.’
‘Working with food banks in the UK we donate sanitary pads to support women and their families living on the breadline, so they don’t have to go without.’
These are all sentences I took from http://periodpoverty.uk/ , showing the wide issue there is in lack of period products. Not only is not having access to sanitary products an issue in terms of health, comfort and dignity but often the access these individuals do have is to toxic products. Although this is an issue in general sanitary care (Always, Tampax etc have widely been reported to cause rashes and irritated skin) it is particularly pertinent in a world where organic and reusable options are less widely available (I for example use the wonderful brand TOTM but am aware of how this is a more expensive and less accessible option that many don’t have available.)
I could go on for hours about the stigma and shame, the poverty and degradation and the lack of awareness around menstruating individuals but at the root it boils down to every person being able to be in comfort and without shame.
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