The Bloody Revolution

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Alia Abbas

One of ten girls cannot afford sanitary products for their periods (Photo courtesy of Alia Abbas).

From using socks as sanitary pads and stealing tampons from supermarkets, many women struggle to survive the deep wound of “Period Poverty.” Period Poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and waste management.

“There’s stress of period poverty, the internal stigma or the inability to openly talk about menstruation, [and] it can all lead to feelings of depression and poor mental health,” said organization Project Period

Menstruation is a normal and healthy part of a mature female’s life. Most women menstruate each month for about two to seven days, and although it is known as a ”period,” it’s also widely known among girls as “Oh, no, it’s already shark week”. Yet, as normal as it is, menstruation is stigmatized around the world. Stigmas, like taboos and myths, cause adolescent girls to be deprived of self-worth and dignity, and somewhat ashamed of being biologically birthed as a female. There are frequent immoral conceptions such as women being weaker compared to males or incompetent in the workforce, as well as many other ignorant comments that women are shamed for everyday. The stigma surrounding periods leads to damaging misconceptions and discrimination against girls. Often the first period a girl experiences is met with either fears or concerns. For every adolescent girl, this crucial transition to womanhood can be scary and traumatizing. 

“The toll a period can have on our mental health is traumatizing. And acknowledging the fact that women menstruate for about seven years of their life is unthinkable pain. From pain and suffering and the emotional feelings that come with, to misdiagnosis of a reproductive illness, a period can bring great stress to an individual’s life,” said Copenhagen based non-profit organization Power Period

In Nepal, India, for example, menstruating girls are seen as impurity to a community, and so they are banished to huts isolated away from the village during their cycles. This is similar to the many girls in the U.S. who skip school while on their period to avoid teasing by other students. The shame that surrounds this affects young girls’ mental well-being. It disempowers aspiring young adult women, which causes them to feel embarrassed and defeated in their dreams in hopes, all because of a normal biological process. 

“Meeting the hygiene needs of all adolescent girls is a fundamental issue of human rights, dignity, and public health,” said Sanjay Wikesekera, the UNICEF Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. 

Although the decade is coming to a close, federal prisons only made menstrual products free in 2018 after the Department of Justice was pressured. Similarly, the Department of Education has been under fire recently for not eradicating period poverty and legislating policies that give abundant access of menstrual need to students. Student activists have called the department out for not treating period products as health necessities, not supporting policies that protect students who menstruate, and not providing period products in all school bathrooms.

Many see this problem as a problem for women only in developing countries and women living in poverty. However, there has been a recent rise of period poverty vulnerabilities amongst U.S. citizens. Many U.S. politicians, who are 75% white men, don’t view this human rights violation as a serious problem. They see these essentials as products and luxury instead of a valuable and crucial resource. Just as resources that run a country, the resources that women are deprived of make them ostracized from helping the country run and living their life to the fullest. 

“Politicians don’t like this issue because it’s not sexy,” said Dr. Varina Tjon A Ten, a former parliamentarian in the Netherlands and a current professor at The Hague University in Holland.

Menstrual health helps people discover other situations around the world that don’t just deal with periods products, such as sanitation and clean water. Lack of access to adequate hand washing facilities makes it harder for women, girls, and transgender boys to manage their periods with safety and dignity. 2.3 million people globally live without basic sanitation services. Menstrual health also helps us acknowledge that women and girls with special needs and disabilities disproportionately do not have access to these facilities and resources they need for proper period hygiene.

Many mothers to young college students in the U.S. are torn between purchasing food or menstrual products while paying for other expenses that come from wanting an education or to provide for their children in general. In the United States, there are too many people who cannot pay for menstrual products. Although only 11 states dropped the tampon tax on period products as a luxury item, it does not single-highhandedly make menstrual products affordable. The tampon tax or “pink tax” is the name for the content marketing trends of the color pink toward women and girls. 

It takes all of us to make real change happen. Caroline Dillion, current University of Pennsylvania sophomore, first created a mock period poverty bill in June 2018 as her high school history project. She was heard by New Hampshire Senator Martha Hennessey, who  later helped Dillion bring the bill to the House and have it signed and approved by the Senate. Today, New Hampshire offers free period products in its secondary schools in both women’s and men’s public restrooms. This proves that young women today are not waiting for the government to solve these problems, and women like Dillion are taking extraordinary leaps to success in the right direction menstrual hygiene.

Some ways to advocate for change in period poverty could be researching the lack of menstruation in your local community, working with others around you in order to promote positive hygiene habits, breaking away the stigma around periods, and holding an educational program for young girls in elementary school that builds social solidarity and builds confidence in girls, boys, and anyone else.