How many of us have stories about men becoming squeamish after hearing the word ‘period’ or when they are sent to buy us sanitary wear? As women we have also fallen into the trap of giving menstruation codenames such as ‘Aunt Flo’, ‘Code Red’, ‘Bloody Mary’, ‘Lady Business’, ‘that time of the month’ or ‘ Girl Flu’. But how did this dilemma of feeling uneasy when discussing menstruation arise? Why has menstruation been stigmatised?
UN Women states that, as much as menstruation is a normal and healthy part of our lives as women, it is a topic that is not understood by many people, especially men and has become riddled with misinformation, misconceptions, stigma, taboos, myths and discrimination across the world. This has caused girls to miss out on normal experiences that come with having periods as well as adolescents missing out on the opportunity to be educated properly about menstruation and to develop healthy habits. Unfortunately, as a result, menstruation has become an unpopular subject, one which many of us are embarrassed to talk about openly.
A woman who is passionate about menstruation and has dedicated her life to alleviating the stigmatization around it is Mandi Tembo, founder of The Bleed Read, a website centred on menstruation. She gave us her expert knowledge of some of the misconceptions and myths about menstruation………
Despite menstruation being a normal biological process experienced by over half of the world’s population, it is rarely openly spoken about or discussed. Due to the secrecy and taboo that shrouds this important topic, there are many harmful myths and misconceptions around menstruation.
In my opinion, some of the most harmful misconceptions of menstruation are that menstruation is supposed to be a painful process and that it is an indication of adulthood and maturity. Periods are not meant to be painful. Slight discomfort is normal but it is important that young women stop suffering in silence and know that extreme menstrual pain is not normal and warrants medical intervention. It is equally important that we do not sexualize menstruation. The average age of girls getting their first period in Zimbabwe is 13 years old and while menstruation is a sign that one is capable of getting pregnant, I think we can all agree that a 13 year old is not ready to have sex and/or carry a child. Menstruation is an indication that the reproductive system is working as it should, not a sign of sexual readiness.
As readers, it really starts with each of us. If reading this article has you asking yourself more questions and/or eager to learn and talk more about menstruation then DO THAT! There are so many resources available in the form of academic papers, podcasts, books, articles, and blogs (such as The Bleed Read). Once we’ve read more – we should share and discuss what we’ve learnt with others! If we can do our part to normalise all things period-related, we can take away the shame, stigma, and mystery around it and make sure periods aren’t a negative experience for girls and women in our communities.
The greatest tools to curb the harmful myths and taboos around menstruation include:
1) Bridging the menstrual health knowledge gap by facilitating menstrual health education for both young boys and girls at home and in school,
2) normalising menstrual health related conversation and discussion between parents and children, students and teachers, co-workers, friends, and partners, and
3) mainstreaming menstrual health and making it a key part of policy and practice relating to all aspects of women’s health and well-being
Having spent most of my professional life working in sexual and reproductive health research and, more recently, menstrual health research among young women in Zimbabwe, I wanted to create an inclusive and interactive platform to encourage and support transformational dialogue around ALL things menstrual health-related. The Bleed Read is an all-inclusive global platform – a resource and space for all ages, all genders, and all races. My hope is that this platform highlights how and why menstrual issues should matter to everyone. I hope the content I share, the stories WE tell as a collaborative community, and the individuals we reach all culminate in amplifying the voices of girls and women everywhere and improving the menstrual experiences of those who menstruate worldwide.
Zimbabwe is becoming richer in resources relating to menstrual health. One such resource is The Period Company. Telia Mhonda from the organisation explains to us that menstrual health, “is not one person’s business, it affects all of us and when we work together we can make a bigger impact.” To become more equipped on this subject and how we can help each other end stigmatisation of menstrual health, The Period Company provided its profile……
The Period Company is a passion project and we are proud Period Advocates. We believe that every woman and girl in Zimbabwe should have the right to a safe and dignified period. We work to build awareness, commitment and access to improved menstrual care through menstrual health management, improving research and development. Through advocacy and awareness, we hope to end the silence around menstruation.
The topic about periods should enable us to have intimate conversations with both women and men. In our interactions with women, we noticed a hint of shame attached to our periods, and we wanted to explore that. Why were we taught to be ashamed of such a beautiful and natural process? Before we can break through any impact in our women, the first thing as an organisation that we must face is the shame. We also discussed with the men on our team and decided to put ourselves out there. If we show that we are not ashamed, people will feel more comfortable about finding new ways to make our period experiences more manageable. We can start to appreciate the shame that some girls and women endure when they go without sanitary products. Maybe then we can understand and try to improve the situations of those who are vulnerable. The challenge has received positive responses and it is our hope that it makes an impact by bringing together more influential individuals from our communities to stand behind us.
We have reusable cloth pads which we source from within our community as well as leak proof underwear. We will be launching our own menstrual cup which will be retailing at a lower cost to cater for the mass market. In the future, we hope to have biodegradable pads and tampons which are not only safer for our women but also better for the environment.
In terms of community outreach, we run workshops for women and young girls about the importance of menstrual hygiene. The business has several social impact projects which include sponsorships for girls who fail to attend school because of lack of sanitary wear.
To learn more about The Period Company, you can find them on the following platforms:
Facebook: The Period Company
Telia Mhonda: +263 779 701 450 or +263 775 603 518
Tel: +263 242 776 873
Email: [email protected]