With hard work, dedication and education, we can make the world a better place for all people who have periods.
I know a lot of things about menstrual periods that I simply did not understand growing up. I know that not all girls have their period. I know that certain illnesses such as premature menopause make some girls unable to experience a menstrual cycle or have incredibly heavy flows and stressful cycles. I know that from birth, some girls are born with non-functional uteruses. I’m also aware that there are people who do not identify as girls or women and have periods. As a result of gender expression, I have come to understand that gender is fluid; intersex people very much exist and all kinds of persons who experience periods are in need of support. Now that I am much older, I know that bleeding for months on end is not ‘abnormal’ or a ‘curse’ and that illnesses such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) make girls experience irregular or ongoing bleeding with chronic pain.
I know that there is no shame in being stained and that there are so many girls out there who cannot afford sanitary pads. I know that while using tissue can be a last resort for me, there are girls who have to do this regularly and run the risk of getting ill or having a vaginal infection as a result. I understand that lower-income girls may experience more pain around periods because they still have to carry on several responsibilities even during their cycle. I am an advocate for paid menstrual leave days because I know that coupled with depression, leaving my bed during my monthly is often the hardest thing for me to do. I know that because I do not want to look weak or look like I am making excuses, I often show up to work feeling incredibly horrible and have to forcefully power through my day. I know that it does not have to be like this.
I know that disabled girls and people may have even more difficult challenges with periods because of having to change around mobility aids and helpers. The pandemic has proven that so many jobs could be done from the comfort of our homes, which makes life even more accessible for girls with disabilities. It is much easier to change, have access to help and care when you are at home with caregivers, rather than at work with people you might not know all too well.
I know that some girls with periods experience even more shame during their cycles as a result of conditioning. In my time in secondary school, many of us would hide our pads under our shirts while walking to the restroom even though it was a girls’ only school. We were led to believe that periods and bleeding besmirched us which in turn made growing girls uncomfortable about their changing bodies.
I know that there are several NGOs presently doing a lot of work to provide sanitary pads to girls who cannot afford them. I know that Always-Ultra, a popular sanitary pad sends its worst batches of products to African countries, resulting in life-long complications for girls who make use of them. I remember that people laughed in secondary school when there was a menstrual education and pad demonstration during assembly. This was in an all ‘girls’ school. I wondered how much more insidious the conversation would be in mixed-sex schools. The last time I saw somebody stained, at a wedding a few weeks ago, I silently picked up a large napkin. Then I walked up to the person like they were an old friend, used the napkin to shield them and informed them of the situation in a calm tone of voice. Their face flared with embarrassment, but with quick reassurance, they headed to the bathroom to clean up. There is nothing inherently embarrassing about menstrual blood being on a cloth, in fact, I believe the stigma of period staining stems from societies rigid expectations of women to be feminine, ladylike and experience uncomfortable situations with as little noise as possible.
I know that I want to be involved in more work with girls who have periods, and this article for me is a small way of starting off. I know that with hard work and dedication, we can make the world a better place for all people who have periods.