For centuries, women have been treated “differently” for a biological function that they have little to no control over. Yes, it is periods. The topic of periods is a never-ending discussion that has become more than a health concern and has reached social, political, and, sadly, economic levels. As we are all familiar with, menstruation products in many countries around the globe are relatively expensive, leading to a big issue which in literature is called “period poverty”. Important news flashed about this: Last week, with the majority of the votes of the council, Scotland became the first country that officially made sanitary menstrual products free and available to all the people who go through this cycle that we call the menstruation cycle from all socioeconomic levels. So let’s take this excellent news as an opportunity to talk about periods for a second. How have periods been treated across history? What is period poverty and how does it affect women’s lives this much? From the ancient Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder stating that “menstruating women ruin everything” to the old French belief about children who are conceived during the menstruation period will become “monsters”, continuing onto the belief of the Mae Enga tribe of New Guinea which strongly states that contact with a woman who is on her period would actually kill a man, many historical myths exist that all strengthen the against views to the topic. Whether it is religious or not, women are always seen as the second sex, and a very much natural and crucial-for-life function of theirs has been shamed, leading to it becoming a large stigma that exists today impacting many people who are experiencing periods across the globe.
We can say that the constant misconceptions and misunderstandings that feed into this stigma that is mentioned are due to the lack of conversation. People being ashamed to talk about their experiences because of the fear of being shamed, judged, and looked different due to religious, social, and cultural reasons limits the progress of menstrual issues including period poverty. Period poverty by definition can be shortened as a lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene facilities, waste management, and education (Michel 2022). It goes beyond just economic shortcuts but issues with womanhood and mental health.
Starting with the socio-economic aspect of period poverty, in the US 500 million people lack access to menstrual products and hygiene facilities (Michel 2022). According to UNESCO in the Sub-Saharan countries, 1 in 10 girls skips school because they have no access to the safe and private space that they need. Reuters reports that after the Syrian war, 60% of the refugees who escaped and were accommodated in shelters across Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon lack sanitary products including clean underwear (Aldanmaz&Eskitaşçıoğlu 2022). These examples from all around the world can give us an idea that it is an extremely unpleasant thing to go through. Girls miss out on school in African countries, consecutively leading them to drop out, which puts them at an even greater risk of child marriage or getting pregnant because of the “maternal” roles that are put on to women, well young girls in this case. Women go through heavy menstrual bleeding which even leads to cardiac arrest because they have no knowledge of what is the norm due to the lack of education and support.
I am lucky enough that I got the education and knew what period was in detail when mine first happened but not everybody is. As you may guess, more girls are familiar with the topic than men. I remember in middle school while talking about periods they would separate us as if we are living completely separated from the other gender, and I know that this is the “norm” when it comes to the limited education that is given. In Papua New Guinea, men were being interviewed by the International Planned Parenthood Federation about periods where one of them said: “When I hear the word menstruation, I know that a girl or woman is bleeding and I know that she is now ready for marriage” (2021). A stigma is a mindset and half of the minds that the stigma is set is male, thus education is necessary for not just only women who do not already have access to it but men who live surrounded by the other gender as well.
Keeping these in mind, Scotland actually had made an enormous step on the road of encouraging education, making conversation, and providing the products when it comes to this paradox of menstruation. A biological function that makes life possible should not be shamed but celebrated. Many women are struggling with themselves, with their femininity when it is the topic of “bleeding”, due to the schemas that are cut out in order to protect the patriarchal system we are all exposed to. We should talk, and talk, and talk even more because the most powerful tool that we have is our voice to acquire reformation. Thus, while celebrating this step forward we should not forget to keep moving to progress and not backward in order to be able to celebrate more news like this.
Aldanmaz, Bahar, and İlayda Eskitaşçıoğlu. TÜRKİYE'DE REGL YOKSULLUĞU ARAŞTIRMASI 2022. Konuşmamız Gerek Derneği, 2022. Konuşmamız Gerek, konusmamizgerek.org/turkiyede-regl-yoksullugu-arastirmasi/. Accessed 23 Aug. 2022.
Froeber, Jacquelyne. "Period Stigma & Health Risks." healthywomen, 25 Aug. 2021, www.healthywomen.org/created-with-support/period-stigma-health-risks. Accessed 23 Aug. 2022.
Michel, Janet. "Period poverty: why it should be everybody's business." Journal of Global Health Reports. Journal of Global Health Reports, www.joghr.org/article/32436-period-poverty-why-it-should-be-everybody-s-business. Accessed 23 Aug. 2022.
"Period stigma: how it holds back girls and women." International Planned Parenthood Federation, 25 May 2021, www.ippf.org/blogs/period-stigma-how-it-holds-back-girls-and-women. Accessed 23 Aug. 2022.
Sullivan, Becky. "Scotland becomes the first country to offer tampons and pads for free, officials say." NPR, 16 Aug. 2022. NPR, www.npr.org/2022/08/16/1117748486/scotland-tampons-pads-menstrual-free-period-products. Accessed 24 Aug. 2022.