The term ‘Menstrual Equity’ is used to describe menstruation as a driver of social and economic inequality resulting from staggering menstruation poverty, taboos, and stigma associated with menstruation.
Period Poverty and Stigma:
Hundreds of millions of girls and women across the world do not have access to hygienic sanitary products, clean and private toilets or clean water. As a result, girls from remote areas and, or low-income families are forced to miss school every month during menstruation. Many even drop out of school after they have their first period. Though the issue is more severe in developing countries, women in developed countries are also impacted by period poverty. Daily wage earners, students from lower economic backgrounds, incarcerated women, and women living in refugee camps, homeless shelters, or streets are most impacted by period poverty in developing countries. In the United States alone, 22 million women living in poverty do not have access to proper, hygienic sanitary products. Many use toilet tissues and paper towels to soak their period blood.
For some girls and women, the shame and taboo associated with menstruation and restrictions during their period, make menstruation, a normal biological phenomenon, an extremely oppressive and disempowering experience.
On the other hand, women all over the world, from all socioeconomic backgrounds are forced to attend work and school and lead a normal life every month during menstruation. Women learn to silently trivialize abdominal cramps, heavy bleeding, or a range of physical and psychological symptoms because the whole ‘period’ issue is invisible, shameful, and must not be talked about.
Yet, all countries in the world have historically excluded menstruation from mainstream public health issues and failed to include it in policy and decision-making. Distribution of free or subsidized menstrual products, waiving off taxes from menstruation products or paid period leaves have not been topics of policy discussion until recently. Many world leaders, even today, don’t consider menstruation equity and menstruation poverty a mainstream policy or human rights issue!
Menstruation Equity: We Can Do Better
Although countries like Scotland, New Zealand, and Canada have recently made some remarkable progress in improving menstruation equity, much more work needs to be done across the world, so that no girls and women have to choose between their dignity and education or safety.
Some of the basic steps all countries must ensure to combat menstruation inequity are:
- Making menstruation hygiene products accessible to all.
- Free distribution of menstruation hygiene products in schools, health centers, shelters, and prisons
- Ensuring access to clean water and safe toilets for all
- Ensuring separate toilets for girls in schools
- Promoting awareness and education against all sorts of taboos and harmful cultural practices against menstruation
- Including menstruation education in schools
The primary reason why menstruation is excluded from education, policy, and decision-making is the stigma associated with it. The topic is dealt with silence, shame, and taboo. To destigmatize menstruation, it’s very important to normalize menstruation, engage in conversation about menstruation, and create proper awareness about menstruation.
Menstruation Advocacy and Education
Advocacy is a great tool for bringing policy and legislation changes to ensure better menstrual equity. Reaching out to local representatives, petitioning, or lobbying are important ways in making sure our legislators prioritize period poverty and period education. Many feminine organizations all over the world are working on advocacy, research, awareness, access, and distribution of menstruation products. Supporting and following their work is a great way to start menstruation advocacy. Educating the communities about the scientific aspects of menstruation health and management and the importance of eradicating all superstition and stigma surrounding menstruation will have a ripple effect across generations in ensuring better menstruation equity.
Resource: PERIOD TALK is an education program that strives to facilitate conversations around periods and empower menstruators and non-menstruators to advocate for period health. By delving into period health, activism, and self-advocacy, this program works as a guide for someone in becoming a menstrual equity activist. You can find a Toolkit, Script for the presentation, a draft presentation for the workshop or event, and more resources for menstruation advocacy.
Gender mainstreaming in Policy and Decision Making
According to the UN Women, Mainstreaming involves ensuring that gender perspectives and attention to the goal of gender equality are central to all activities – policy development, research, advocacy, legislation, resource allocation, and planning. Unfortunately, very few countries have completely adopted gender mainstreaming and use gender lenses in all aspects of decisions and legislation. The world is struggling to accomplish gender parity primarily because of the lack of a feminist approach among leaders fuelled by the lack of female representation in politics and public offices. And women are tirelessly fighting for their bodily autonomy, dignity, menstruation, and sexual and reproductive rights with very few strides made in some parts of the world, as though the world is run by men and for men.
I wonder, if men got their period, would we still be having this conversation?
Some important points to remember:
- Menstruation is a public health and human right issue, and so is access to menstruation products.
- Menstruation is a natural physiological phenomenon
- Menstruation is not shameful
- Menstruation products are not luxury but a basic necessity like food and medicine
- Menstruation poverty is a major driver of gender gap in low income countries