Today is Menstrual Hygiene Day, an annual awareness day to help challenge taboos surrounding menstruation. Founded in 2014 by WASH United, each year advocates come together to discuss the many obstacles those who menstruate face.
Why do we need a menstrual hygiene day?
With so much stigma still surrounding periods, many use the day to raise awareness about menstruation and highlight the importance of good menstrual hygiene management worldwide. The reality is many still struggle to access really basic needs such as correct information, products and a safe space to use them. Many organisations use this day to encourage people to help any way they can whether it’s highlighting information or donating to help get period products to those in need.
What is the focus this year?
The focus this year is to encourage more action and investment in menstrual hygiene. The menstrual hygiene day website states ‘a world without period poverty and stigma is possible’. Their hope is to reach this goal by 2030. Bloody Good Period, a UK charity, also has a campaign that focuses on erasing stigma.
What obstacles do those who menstruate face?
A period is a biological function a number of people experience. It’s not something that should be hidden away, we should be able to discuss it. Period care can be a challenge for many; not everyone has access to period products and adequate facilities to use them. The pandemic has made access even harder for some too. Not being able to take care of your menstrual health makes people feel ashamed and can also impact them in other areas such as education.
Can we truly erase stigma if we still use the term ‘menstrual hygiene’?
Language plays a big part in keeping the shame surrounding periods alive. If we truly want to rid menstruation of stigma, this is where we need to start. Terms such as ‘menstrual hygiene’, ‘sanitary products’ and ‘feminine hygiene’ are outdated for a number of reasons.
Terms like ‘sanitary’ and ‘hygiene’ imply periods are dirty. This may seem like a stretch to some but over the years, this has contributed to the idea that a period is something you should be embarrassed about. This way of thinking hinders us all as many do not feel they can discuss periods openly. If people do not feel comfortable talking about periods, how can we expect them to seek out help when needed? Be it period products or medical attention.
What can we say instead?
Seeing the words ‘hygiene’ or ‘sanitary’ on products can reinforce shameful narratives surrounding periods and make people feel lesser than. ‘Feminine hygiene’ is no longer accurate nor inclusive as a number of people can experience periods. This can trigger gender dysphoria for some individuals too.
Now we have an official definition for menstrual health, it’s vital we start using it! Being straightforward with the language we use is the first step in eradicating menstrual taboos. It helps us break down shame by calling it what it is and this leads to vital information becoming more inclusive and accessible.