The commercialisation of women’s sanitary products has contributed to the unhelpful notion that a period is inherently wrong in some vague, grimy sense. This completely natural experience is presented as strictly ‘women’s business’; something which must remain private and exclusive to the individual – and which must be hidden from society at all costs. It is a problem urgently requiring a solution.
In a recent commercial campaign for period products, the Australian company Libra was criticised after their depiction of menstruation was deemed ‘distasteful and unnecessary’ by some viewers. The offending advertisement depicted menstrual blood running down the legs of a woman showering, a used sanitary pad, and a visual demonstration of the pads’ absorbency. More than 600 formal complaints were made to the ad standards authority stating that the advertisement was ‘vulgar’ and ‘extremely offensive’. However, these complaints were swiftly dismissed, with the campaign gaining praise for its attempts to fight period taboos. The advertisement has raised questions regarding the dialogue that presently surrounds periods.
Period shame attaches itself to women and girls for many reasons. Symptoms associated with menstruation include nausea, back pain, vomiting and headaches. Such symptoms have forced girls to miss school with recent Irish studies carried out by Plan International showing 61% of girls are too embarrassed to discuss their periods. A further 88% of girls feel less capable of paying attention in class during their period. Similar research by Plan International is being carried out on a global scale. Results in India show that 20% of girls living in rural areas will leave school once they get their first period. In Malawi, 70% of girls miss 1 to 3 days of school a month due to their periods. These results highlight the injustices, embarrassment, shame and unnecessary challenges girls must contend with when faced with a natural bodily occurrence – and they illustrate how period shame is a serious barrier to the educational experience of girls all over the world.
Other barriers to attending school during one’s period can be associated with the cost of sanitary products. In Ireland the average annual cost of sanitary products is estimated at €132. This price does not include the cost for pain relief such as painkillers. The cost also fails to include any new underwear that may need to be purchased when leakages occur and underwear is soiled from blood. Campaigns such as Free Periods in the UK aim to tackle the cost associated with menstruation. The goal of this campaign is to ensure that no girl has to miss another day of school due to the cost of sanitary products. Similarly, the charity Homeless Period fundraises money and takes donations of sanitary products for homeless women across Ireland and the UK.
In recent days, the Free Period organizer Amika George has started a new campaign called Free Period Stories. The campaign aims to end the embarrassment and shame that surrounds periods and to open a dialogue surrounding menstruation.
Free Period, Homeless Period and the ad campaign run by Libra all serve a vital role in combating the damaging implications of period taboos.
Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!