Why the Menstrual Movement is Important

It’s no secret that menstruation has always been a taboo topic. From period product commercials using blue liquid representing menstrual blood to young girls being taught from a young age they have to manage their “time of the month” privately, these are just a few issues apparent in our society.

This strange phenomenon of period stigma definitely affects our culture. In middle school and high school, I recall female students in the hallway secretly trying to hide that they were exchanging pads or tampons. I recall being one of them and feeling shameful myself.

So. why is there this stigma? According to Joyce McFadden, psychoanalyst and author of Your Daughter’s Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women, she believes the topic of menstruation “is still a cultural taboo, driven by sexism whether it’s uncurious or not.”

In the United States, this sexism even shows up in the form of taxes imposed by our own government. In January 2016, 26-year-old YouTube sensation Ingrid Nilsen brought up a valid point of concern, asking why tampons and pads are taxed as luxury items in 40 states.

At the time, President Obama seemed surprised by this fact, as he replied, “I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.” Over the years, not much has changed. Today, 37 states continue to impose the dubbed “tampon tax.” Just this year, Florida exempted menstrual products from sales tax.

Period stigma may also be perpetuated due to the lack of education on puberty and menstrual hygiene management. Luckily, the Menstrual Movement, led by Harvard sophomore Nadya Okamoto, is challenging the status quo. Okamoto is the co-founder and executive director of PERIOD, a non-profit group run by young activists who are “changing the conversation around periods and providing care to those in need.”

In an interview with Allure magazine, Okamoto shares how her passion for menstrual hygiene started, “during my family’s experience with not living in a home of our own home during my freshman to sophomore year of high school, and through conversations with homeless women I met.”

Okamoto discovered that many homeless women face difficulty when menstruating, as they are unable to access pads and tampons. As a result, they often resort to using socks, rags, and even bundles of newspaper. The potential health risks and shame that homeless women face inspired a need for resources and a movement that recognizes that menstrual hygiene is a right, not a privilege.

It’s important to recognize that period stigma affects people worldwide. In some countries, menstruation takes a toll on a girl’s education. For example, girls in Kenya miss an average of 4.9 days of school each month because of their periods. In other instances, a girl is shunned by her community and risks her own health when she is on her period.

For example, in rural villages in western Nepal, the chaupadi tradition, although outlawed in 2005, continues to force menstruating girls and women to live in a dark shed for a week, where they are exposed to serious unsanitary conditions.

The Menstrual Movement calls us to be the voices for social change and combat the silence and shame surrounding periods. In order to address the lack of facilities, the lack of menstrual hygiene education and the lack of period products, we need to start the conversation.

There’s a multitude of ways to draw attention to this important women’s health issue, including driving to a local shelter to provide menstrual products, calling your state legislator, signing a petition, or even sharing a menstrual-related hashtag on Instagram or Twitter. In all of these ways, we become our own activists and contribute to a greater good.

It’s time that the stigma ends. Period.