Interview by Christie Winn
Graphic by Cinnamone Winchester
Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) is a global day of activism that aims to promote menstrual health and hygiene for all. Initiated by WASH United, the overarching goal of MH Day is to build a world where no one is held back by menstruation by the year 2030.
Since the inaugural celebration in 2014, MH Day has continued to grow, breaking the silence and challenging the stigma of menstruation that has become the norm. MH Day challenges decision-makers to increase the political priority of menstrual health and hygiene, to catalyse change so that everyone can have accessible, affordable menstrual products, a period-friendly environment, and the knowledge about menstruation that should be universal.
In celebration of MH Day, Bossy asked menstruators to share their experiences with menstruation, menstrual hygiene, and menstrual stigma. It is our hope that these experiences bring about awareness and further the goals of MH Day. #WeAreCommitted.
When I was 12, I remember an instance when a friend of mine was walking to the bathroom at school. In her hand was a pencil pouch, that she held very close to her body. Head down, she walked without making any eye contact with anyone. Since she was usually very outgoing, this confused me. I went and asked her if everything was alright. She nervously replied, “Yes.” I pointed to her pencil pouch and asked what it was. She immediately clutched the pouch even closer to her body, and said, “You should never ask someone that.”
I was confused. It was only later that I realised the object she had been carrying so secretively was a sanitary napkin. A pad.
As a young teen, this incident “taught” me that menstrual products are meant to be hidden. Not to be seen. Not to be shown. It took almost two years for me to unlearn this.
I was a child when this experience taught me that one of the most natural things my body does is something I should be ashamed of.
In reality, there is nothing untoward about menstruating, nor menstrual products. In fact, by using sanitary napkins, one is demonstrating good hygiene practices. It is an ideal behaviour that helps promote the health and safety of individuals. Still, society tells us to treat our periods and period products as something of an unclean nature.
Since realising that menstruation is natural and shouldn’t be stigmatised, I’ve made a conscious effort to be more period positive. I don’t shy away from admitting that I may be having menstrual cramps, or tiptoe around my use of the words tampons or pads. I also encourage other menstruating individuals to do the same, while recognising that despite recent efforts towards social change, societal barriers still persist. I’m still trying to understand when it’s acceptable to talk about menstruation. I applaud every single menstruating individual who has dealt with period stigma. Learning and unlearning has been a journey, but I hope to keep learning from all the other amazing menstruators and advocates out there!
– Isha Singal
I was 12 years old when I had my first period. To be exact, my first period came on the 28th of July 2012. It was the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. I sat on the couch wearing an uncomfortable pad, in my dark jeans watching One Direction sing to the Queen of England as my uterine lining shed itself. What a day!
When it comes to menstrual health, I am one of the “lucky ones”. I don’t experience severe cramping, mood changes, or even an incredibly heavy flow. As a teenager this would, for lack of a better word, “bother” me. My friends would share stories of their worst periods or remedies on how to fix cramps, and I was never able to partake in these conversations.
I thought that this lack of discomfort while menstruating meant I was missing out on a fundamental part of the menstrual experience. Pain during menstruation has become so normalised that when I didn’t experience it, I thought there was something wrong with me. As I’ve grown up and experienced many more periods, some worse than others, I’ve realised that the societal attitude towards periods as something private and taboo is simply ridiculous. It seems exceptional to me that those who menstruate are expected to go about business as usual when they could be experiencing a tremendous amount of pain. To make matters worse, the only option for relief is hormonal birth control or a regular old Panadol.
I don’t know if pain during menstruation can ever be completely eradicated. I do know that far too many people are expected to just grin and bear it. And so now, instead of feeling annoyed about being left out of the conversation, I instead aim to raise up the voices of those who are struggling every month, so that more research can be done to create options for relief which can ensure nobody is held back by their period.
Menstruation, to me, is life. It is the blood that gives life, yet it is taboo.
This taboo means that a lot of menstruators are not aware of their own bodies or the menstruation process. Growing up in Bangladesh, I have seen firsthand the effects of this taboo, including a lack of education and poor menstrual hygiene management. I have been working in this sector since 2018, and I have personally conducted workshops and distributed over 300 period kits and reusable pads with my team from Foundation 21. We have also established Talk Period, Bangladesh, an organisation that aims to start conversations and talk period unapologetically. Menstrual Hygiene Day aims to get people to commit to change, and this year we are expressing that #WeAreCommitted. Advocating to give more power to all menstruators and volunteers who are working in this sector, we want to see a period-positive society and a world where menstruation is normalised.
– Abreshmi Anika Chowdhury
I am so glad to be able to menstruate. Previously I, like many others I know, hated getting my period—with a passion. This change came from my diagnosis with amenorrhea; I did not get my period for almost three years. I didn’t have to waste pads or stain any undies. I even stopped packing spares in my bags. After a while though, worry set in. I worried for my hormonal health and my potential inability to have children. With time and effort, I have gotten my period back, mostly. I am still getting used to it and working to accept it again after going so long without. Yes, I still hate the feeling of the “gush” when I stand up after being seated for a long time. Yes, I still hate the pimples that I get when my hormones change. And yes, I still hate having to buy menstrual products because they’re expensive and pollute the environment. But my periods now serve as an important and very visceral reminder of my health and my fertility; two important things which I do not wish to take for granted.
Even when I had nothing to update it with, I kept my period tracking app on my phone. I wondered, from time to time, if the app thought I had simply forgotten to log my periods when I was getting them. Knowing full well that the app could not think nor feel, I had somehow convinced myself that it hated me for neglecting it, even though there was not much—nothing, in fact—that I could do to amend this. Although my cycles are still far from regular, I am so glad that I get them. I am slowly learning to appreciate the good that comes with the uncomfortable, and I believe that we need to have more conversations about having (and not having) periods. It’s time to break the taboo. This MH Day, I’ll be celebrating the return of my own menstruation, and I hope to help facilitate more open discussions.