It’s time to talk about periods. And not the punctuation mark.

By: Anabelle Keimach (Correspondent)

People will not make fun of or withhold tissues from someone who has caught an ordinary cold; however, girls are constantly shamed and not provided adequate care for something just as natural: getting their period.

Around the world, the concept of menstruation is stigmatized, and women are told to hide and be ashamed of a natural occurrence that occurs each month that they have no control over. Additionally, forty million women around the world suffer from period poverty meaning that they do not have enough money for adequate sanitary supplies or cannot afford medications for period related illnesses. The condemning of menstruation and the lack of access to sanitary supplies and medications undermines women’s ability to perform at work or school.

“Menstrual hygiene products are basic necessities, and the inability to access them affects a student’s freedom to study, be healthy, and participate in society with dignity,” read a letter sent to Education Secretary Betsy Devos on the issue of period poverty.

In January, forty students and adults marched near the Education Department and took out a full page ad in the Washington Post calling out DeVos to address this form of inequality.

“The most recent Always Confidence & Puberty Survey reveals that nearly one in five American girls and one in seven Canadian Girls  have either left school early or missed school entirely because they did not have access to period products,” said an article from the Always campaign, which is committed to donating millions of period supplies each year in order to combat period poverty.

Gemma Abbott, a volunteer coordinator for the Red Box Project says that there are also many social and cultural reasons why young women may not have access to period products at home that are linked to the stigma that persists around menstruation.“It disenfranchises and disempowers, affecting access to education and to opportunity. So I call for our government to fund free, universal access to menstrual products, in schools and in our wider communities,” said Abbott.

Abbott says that period is not another facet of poverty, rather, it is a reflection of a society ridden with gendered inequalities.

It was only until 2017 that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons issued a policy that women in federal prisons be supplied with menstrual hygiene products, but in state prisons and county jails, women are still expected to pay for their own supplies.

Tampons are also not covered by SNAP benefits, previously known as food stamps, which supports low-income families. “Every day in the United States, countless women and girls have to choose between food and tampons,” said Anita Diamant, reporter for NPR.  

In Sharon High School, many female students feel self conscious when on their periods and believe that having free access to pads and tampons in the bathroom would remove one uncomfortable element of having to deal with their periods at school.

Freshman Abha Chaudhari says the school should provide better access to free sanitary products for girls. “I know in some of the bathrooms they still have the machines where you have to pay for a pad or tampon, but I think they should take those out and put them out for free. I know you can go to the nurse to get them; however, if the bathroom is closer to your class, I think you should be able to have free pads and tampons there,” said Chaudhari.

Junior Olivia Carson says she feels uncomfortable going to the school nurse when she is on her period because it is embarrassing to have to explain why you are there, especially when other students can hear you, and it takes a lot of time out of class. “Overall it’s just really embarrassing and awkward and inconvenient and you leave feeling like you’ve done something wrong,” said Carson.

Freshman Grace Miller-Trabold says being at school while on her period can be distressing. “Having my period at school is definitely an embarrassing thing to me. I also believe periods are very stigmatized,” Miller-Trabold said.

Male and female students alike say that from a young age, people are told to not talk about menstruation, so they feel that more dialogue and education would be one way to combat the stigmatization of periods.

Junior George Acevedo says boys should be taught to acknowledge the topic of women’s menstruation. “Definitely at a young age, guys should be taught about periods as well. Not in like a detailed sense but like ‘hey, women have these things called periods. They go through that and we shouldn’t make fun of them,” said Acevedo.

Acevedo adds that there are a lot of stereotypes that come from guys about women when they are on their periods. “If you take it too seriously, then you can’t talk about it, but if you don’t take it seriously at all then it is easy for stereotypes to arise,” Acevedo said.

Many organizations and individuals world wide have arisen to tackle the stigma around menstruation.

This year at the Oscars, the documentary, Period. End of Sentence, won the Best Short Documentary category. Set in a small village outside of Delhi, India, this film depicts the efforts made to provide women who have faced adversity purely for getting their periods, with adequate period supplies, and the skills to manufacture and market their own pads.

Rayka Zehtabchi, the director of the film says she was pleased that a film about women’s menstruation won the Academy Award. “I’m not crying because I’m on my period or anything. I can’t believe a film on menstruation won an Oscar,” Zehtabchi said during her acceptance speech.

“ A period should end a sentence, not a girls education,” Zehtabchi added.

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