I’m a white, privileged, Brazilian girl and even though I suffer from sexism and other types of prejudice, I cannot deny: menstruation was never a taboo inside my house and getting my period was just like entering another phase. However, I’m a white, privileged, Brazilian girl, and many girls with different realities don’t have it like me.
Girls living in developing countries usually face a lot of obstacles when it comes to bleeding once a month. There is a lack of information, of accessibility and of hygienic supplies. Periods are seen as a shameful phenomenon and people would rather not talk about it. Moreover, since many don’t have the opportunity to get affordable and efficient menstrual products, they have to go for materials such as rags, which not only are uncomfortable but also contribute to infections and facilitate leaks.
Those girls usually don’t have enough knowledge about periods and how they should/can deal with it. Adults hardly sit down with them to have a real talk. Adding up to that, you have girls being excluded from doing activities such as praying, cooking, going to school, and often being a target of teasing. Some may skip school for days then, especially due to the fact that many schools don’t have good sanitary conditions. Later in life, it’s noticeable how that acts just like a domino effect. Girls tend to skip school more, leading to fewer years of education and unfortunately leading to lower incomes and higher chances of getting married at a young age. And subsequent to that, they are seen as inferiors and are pointed at for complaining. Ironic, huh?
Even in my reality, I can see menstruation is still perceived as a taboo by many. One time I was at an event and a girl entered the room asking for a pad, which I had in my backpack. I caught it and rapidly stood my hand to her. However, she was a bit far and people would have to pass it to her… none of the boys felt like touching it as if it was gross and too feminine. None of them saw it as a simple helpful act. If not even girls get enough information about periods, let alone boys. And that’s in my reality as white, privileged, Brazilian girl. I can’t even begin to imagine how it must be like for those girls who don’t even have the chance to comprehend what is going on inside their bodies when they bleed.
I’ve learned to see periods as a natural thing, as something which shows how strong I am and how beautiful it is to be a woman. No, I don’t want to romanticize existing as a woman… it is beautiful just as it is hard. Nevertheless, it’s an amazing and really impressive cycle, and if you know the science behind it, you realize it clearly isn’t something to be embarrassed about.
It hurts me to know girls from all over the world may see it as an obstacle in their lives and an unfortunate process. I do not blame them, though, because I know it’s not their fault. It’s frustrating to know women have always been instructed not to talk about their bodies… their biological aspects, their feelings, their mental health. We are, more often than not, deprived of bringing up discussions about it, of sharing and raising awareness towards everything related. That’s quite problematic because since we are educated not to chat or express ourselves about it, those issues and topics are kept buried and girls continue to suffer from them, having to skip school, for example. A UNESCO report estimates that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle. By some estimates, this equals as much as twenty percent of a given school year. Until when are girls going to be given almost zero alternatives to deal with their periods in a healthy way? Until when will they struggle to bear a natural female body process because of lack of help and assistance? Until when is silence going to be the obvious tool to face topics like menstruation? This is the real red alert.
IMAGE: https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/475552041879237434/ (Rupi Kaur)