Many menstruators have heard the phrase “that time of the month,” “crimson tide,” “code red,” or “on the rag” before. Although these euphemisms may come off as harmless, they contribute to the stigma that periods are forbidden to talk about in public.
Menstruation is a completely natural process that discards the uterus linings that build up each month. This is a bodily function shared by many, yet menstruators have often experienced discrimination against it at one point in their life. As a result of period stigma, misinformation and harmful beliefs have caused children feeling ashamed, missing schools, and doing harmful practices to manage their cycles.
These harmful perceptions of menstruation cycles have originated from the traditional Jewish term niddah, meaning “one who is excluded” or “expelled” to describe menstruators. In addition, some Jewish religions force wives to immerse herself in the water of mikveh for “pruification” before having sexual relations with their husbands.
Nowadays, period stigma is often in the form of euphemisms or negative comments. Misconceptions such as associating mood swings with periods adds to the belief of periods being abnormal. Menstruators are often the target of jokes with people accusing them of PMS-ing, behaving in a sensitive or aggressive manner, on their periods. Politicians have also made false claims that menstruators don't function well at work. Stigma also exists in period products too, as using a tampon can “steal” someone’s virginity. These myths ostracize and humiliate women during their monthly cycles, contributing to the fear of talking about them in public.
Conversations on periods become suppressed as the beliefs that menstruation is unsanitary are being spread. This results in women staying at home, excluded from the public, or being considered as “bad luck” to others. For instance, Venezuela forces their women to sleep in huts during their cycles, while rural Ghana forbids them from entering a house with a man or cooking food. In addition, many young menstruators don’t have access to sanitary products, causing them to miss school and have higher rates of catching infectious diseases.
In Africa, an estimated amount of one in ten girls miss school during their menstrual cycles, which totals up to missing 10-20% of school days throughout the year. Not receiving a full educations heightens the risk of child marriage, child pregnancy, health risks, reduced employment, and fewer opportunities.
To combat this issue, encouraging conversations about periods and introducing menstrual health education. In a 2014 study in Nairobi’s Mathare Valley slum, over 75% of girls were not informed on what menstruation was before their first period, causing them to feel confused and ashamed about their cycles. It is crucial that every child understands what a period is and its cycle in order to normalize these bodily processes. Learning about menstruation and creating safe places to conversations help alleviate period stigma, stressing the importance in sex education.
Recently, there is a rise in menstrual activism, or menarchy. Books, articles, and organizations such as SAPP have been working towards bringing menstrual discussions to the public to fight against the stigma. By speaking on the topic openly, it helps remove the harmful misconceptions put onto menstrual cycles. Not only that, policies in education establishments and workplaces can help end the stigma by ensuring menstruators always have access to products when needed.
With the help of many signatures on the FUSD period poverty petition, SAPP has been able to talk to school leaders and fight period stigma by advocating for a policy. As of August 29, 2021, SAPP has been able to enforce menstrual products free and available in all FUSD restrooms.
With SAPP’s efforts to eliminate period stigma, benefits would include positive emotional impacts on menstruators, as they no longer have to feel stressed or ashamed to discuss or ask someone for a product.
About the Author:
Hey everyone! My name is Cynthia Liu and I am currently a junior at Irvington Highschool. As a communications officer at SAPP, I hope to create a change in my community by fighting against period poverty and educating others on the topic. I’m so excited to work alongside this incredible team this year!