Lovestain / No Shame: Menstruation in the Media

Menstruation. That’s right, we’re talking about it.

There’s one thing that’s certain about menstruation: it’s an absolutely natural phenomenon -- as natural as eating or drinking -- and, as author of Newsweek’s cover story, “There Will Be Blood: The Fight to End Period Shaming Is Going Mainstream,” Abigail Jones, says, menstruation is “beautiful too: There’s no human race without it.”

So why are we afraid to talk about it? And why is there a conspicuous lack of access to menstrual hygiene management products and education for all but the most privileged women the world over?

Menstruation has been a taboo topic of conversation in the modern world, and what’s worse, menstrual hygiene management has been largely ignored as a public health issue. “The period,” Jones explains, “is one of the most ignored human rights issues around the globe -- affecting everything from education and economics to environment and public health -- but that’s finally starting to change.”

So far, it’s been an uphill battle. Even in the U.S., there’s a big access gap for underprivileged women. “Tampons and pads are taxed in most states, while things like Viagra, Rogaine and potato chips are not.” In Michigan, doughnuts are exempted from sales tax, but tampons aren’t provided in the restrooms at schools or public buildings. Even President Obama seemed flummoxed about the tampon tax during an interview with YouTube star, Ingrid Nilsen.

As Jones’ article illustrates, this past year, periods have gone from censored talk to mainstream news. In fact, Cosmopolitan said 2015 was “the year the period went public.” From high-powered Manhattan start-ups to late night talk shows, menstrual equity has come out of secrecy into frank discussion. BE A ROSE is part of the change, too. We’re opening a dialogue about menstruation and reproductive health in West Michigan to help lift stigma and empower refugee women.

Incremental change is being made in Kenya, too. In 2004, it became the first country in the world to eliminate sales tax on menstrual products. In Paul Mbiyu Primary School, where BE A ROSE works, girls are discouraged from attending school while menstruating, and often fail to finish coursework -- and even graduate -- because of myths and misguided cultural understandings of blood and menstruation. “Menstruation contributes to 1 million adolescent girls in Kenya missing up to six weeks of school each year… Two times the rate of boys starting puberty.”

The key to affecting broad change in places like rural Kenya is “low-cost, sustainable infrastructure solutions,” says Marni Sommer, a public health expert. In response, BE A ROSE is also improving sanitation infrastructure in Murang'a County, Kenya, to give girls private places to manage menstrual hygiene at school.

These small steps have huge implications. Gina Reiss-Wilchins, CEO of ZanaAfrica, another organization working in Kenya that helps adolescent girls stay in school during their periods, says, “If every girl in Kenya finished secondary school, there would be a 46 percent increase in the country’s GDP across her lifetime.”

These statistics show that empowered women statistically live longer, healthier lives; are far more likely to complete formal education, and participate in local and national economics; and will empower other women and girls to do the same. Abigail Jones and Newsweek are making progress toward this goal -- and you can, too. Take action, and join the movement today.

By Kai Koopman