Updated: Jun 30
The impact books have on our lives is not limited to the words written between the covers. Some books inspire new thoughts and send us to unexpected places. Follow me Down the Rabbit Hole in this recurring segment.
During last week’s blog post, Update Your Wardrobe. Period. , I talked about the various reusable menstrual products available. At first glance, it would appear that there are so many options out there for people with periods. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. The truth is much more upsetting. In her book Seeing Red, Kirsten Karchmer takes the reader thought the history of periods and the stigma surrounding them, and also opens the readers eyes to the varied and startling experiences surrounding menstruation around the world.
The truth is that many people with periods experience period poverty.
That right, it’s so common it has a name.
I was struck by my ignorance and naivety about the whole thing. I feel embarrassed that I was so strongly conditioned to believe the subject taboo that I hadn’t stopped to think about menstruation as a human rights issue. If I’m being perfectly honest, I recall having friends in high school that worked to normalize menstruation, yet I somehow left it at that and went along my merry way.
Damn. I hate being reminded about how inconspicuously the patriarchy influences something as deeply personal as my own thoughts.
Wallowing in embarrassment is counterproductive, so with my blinders finally off, I jumped in to learn more about those that were working hard for menstrual equity.
People experiencing period poverty are faced with much more difficult choices than which brand of period underwear to try. They must choose between things like whether to buy food or menstrual products, whether to use newspapers, rags, toilet paper, sawdust, or nothing, and whether to skip school or face being teased while there, to name a few. These can hardly be called choices at all. The Global Citizen article Period Poverty: Everything You Need to Know reveals that in India “… only 12% of menstruators have access to sanitary products, leaving the rest to use unsafe materials.”
Let’s take a second here to let that sink in because it’s mind boggling. Every day 800 million people menstruate. If you menstruate or know someone who do, imagine spending about a week every month menstruating without menstrual products. Now imagine all the people that rely on you, whether they be family, community, coworkers, or otherwise. It’s hard and upsetting to think about, isn’t it? Guaranteed, it’s harder to experience.
This is a problem that happens all around the world, even in countries where menstrual products are technically (though not financially) widely available. In Canada, a recent report found that one-third of young women can't afford menstrual products. In the US, a survey of low-income women found that “… nearly two-thirds couldn’t afford menstrual hygiene products … during the previous year” and “…more than one in five women said they had this problem every month.” Some countries tax menstrual products as luxury items, more commonly referred to as the Tampon Tax. Hungary’s tax rate is a whopping 27%!
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There are lots of people fighting for change.
In the US, Period Equity is a “…team of lawyers dedicated to fighting for menstrual equity—and to leveraging the tools of law and policy.” In Canada, Tampon Tuesday was started as a way to increase menstrual product donations to the food bank, one of the least donated and most requested items. In Malawi, two 13-year old girls started a pad making club with funding from the United Nations Population Fund. There is a lot of information out there and lots of organizations fighting period poverty. I guess the point is, if you’re like me and you think things need to change, there are endless opportunities both locally and globally.
One thing that everyone can do is educate themselves and help end menstrual stigma. It’s very hard to solve a problem without talking about it. A great way to start is by reading books, or perhaps watching an award-winning film. Lucky for me, a friend recommended the short documentary film Period. End of Sentence. This film conveys much in its 26-minute run time. I also appreciate the beautiful and deceptively simple title that simultaneously expresses how the stigma around periods imprisons people, that periods are a taboo subject often met with silence, and that this silence means some people don’t know the meaning of the word period in reference to menstruation. The title is perfection. The work didn’t stop when the camera stopped rolling. Head to The Pad Project to find out more about what they do and how you can help.
While it’s true that many, many people around the world lack the resources for healthy and dignified menstruation, the rest of us have a choice. If fact, we have many choices. This thought helps me move on from the initial embarrassment of being blind to others’ need and being part of the problem by playing into the age-old stigma around periods. Luckily, I have a monthly reminder in case I forget. I can choose.
I can choose to educate myself and others. I can choose to advocate for law and policy change to combat period poverty. I can choose to donate my time or resources to organizations that fight for period equity. I can choose to denounce the stigma and normalize the normal.
Do you see period poverty in your community? What are your ideas to combat it? Are there period equity groups or initiatives you’d like to spread the word about? We’d love to hear from you. Comment below, email us, or connect through the Book Interrupted Book Club Facebook group! Or better yet, help us fight the stigma and have fun along the way by creating your own period inspired video. Send it to us and we’ll add it to the Menstrual Musings playlist on our YouTube channel.