The following post is a part of the #BleedingLove photo series—a campaign which aims to break the stigma around periods in the South Asian community and around the world. We came together to raise awareness about the struggles women face in regards to menstrual health in the hopes of promoting menstrual equity and in turn, gender equality.
Once a month, I bleed out of my vagina. There, I said it.
For some reason, this basic healthcare issue that impacts 50 percent of the world’s population has been one of society’s biggest taboos — especially within the South Asian community. So, why is something that affects over half of the global population such a secret? In all honesty, I cannot think of a single reason why we as a community are not talking about periods in the year 2018.
Last month, I got my period at work. I ran out of tampons at my desk, and my office which usually keeps a large supply in stock also seemed to have run out. It was pretty cold out, and I had an important meeting in five minutes. I asked a few people in the office and shockingly no one I asked had one either. So, I was stuck choosing between waiting to buy tampons and being late to an important meeting. While neither of those options sounded appealing, this was just a minor inconvenience for me. I work at a company that’s progressive and truly supportive of its employees. But imagine if I didn’t.
Now imagine if you worked on an hourly salary and had to give up part of your hourly wage to run out and buy the products you need.
Now imagine if you had to choose between buying menstrual hygiene products and buying food for your family.
Now imagine if you were homeless and had no idea where your next pad or tampon was coming from or where you would be able to find a safe bathroom to wear sanitary products.
Now imagine if you are a young girl with no access to sanitary products and had to sacrifice your education because of your menstrual cycle.
This is the reality for so many women across the world.
Growing up in a traditional Indian household, I remember feeling ashamed of having my period. I was always reminded to hide my period from friends and family (especially males) as if it was something I should be embarrassed about. I often waited in the car when my family went to the mandir since girls are not even allowed to pray inside a Hindu temple for the first four days of their menstrual cycle. It always felt like I had committed a grave sin by having my period. I was stuck outside with my dirty little secret, while the rest of my family got to go inside and pray.
[Read Related: ‘Padman’ Celebrates Real-Life Superhero’s Quest for Menstrual Health in Rural India]
Until recently, I just accepted the stigma our society has created around periods as the norm. But after reading my Brennan Center colleague Jennifer Weiss-Wolf’s recently published book “Periods Gone Public,” I realized how detrimental our perception of periods really is. Why are women being stigmatized over a basic bodily function? Why are women being punished simply for being female?
The simple answer: the rules are rigged against women. Despite all the incredible progress the feminist movement has made over the past several decades, the fact remains that it was men who constructed the rules and laws that govern our society. And unsurprisingly, women and their periods were completely left out of the narrative.
This issue goes far beyond societal taboos. It’s about policy. It’s about eliminating the tampon tax in all 50 states (36 U.S. states still tax tampons). It’s about making sure no young child has to ever choose their health and dignity over their education. It’s about making sure women across the world are comfortable enough talking about their periods so they can identify inconsistencies in their health sooner. And in the age of technology, it’s about encouraging more women in every economic class to wear reusable period-proof underwear. Most importantly, it’s about achieving menstrual equity.
According to Weiss-Wolf, menstrual equity is this:
In order to have a fully equitable and participatory society, we must have laws and policies that ensure menstrual products are safe and affordable and available for those who need them. The ability to access these items affects a person’s freedom to work and study, to be healthy, and to participate in daily life with basic dignity. And if access is compromised, whether by poverty or stigma or lack of education and resources, it is in all of our interests to ensure those needs are met.
So, what can YOU do to promote menstrual equity?
1. Break the Stigma.
It’s time to end the cycle of shame around periods, especially in the South Asian community. #BleedingLove is our attempt to normalize periods. Join the movement by sharing your own experience on social media. You can also start a conversation with your family and friends to promote awareness about the issue.
2. Speak to your local representatives.
Encourage your local government officials to make sanitary products available for free in public schools, shelters, libraries and other public spaces. Ask them to eliminate the tampon tax to alleviate the burden of cost for women.
3. Donate Sanitary Products
While many of us take access to sanitary products for granted, shelters around the country and the world are always in need of more pads and tampons. A simple donation could significantly improve another person’s quality of life.
This post is not meant to be exclusionary. It is written entirely from my personal experience with periods. While periods do not only impact women, I did not feel equipped to write about anyone else’s experience. I hope this campaign helps bring many of those stories to light.