In March 2018, Plan International launched its Break the Barriers: Menstrual Manifesto report. With interviews from over 80 menstruators, the report shines a spotlight on issues facing people who menstruate in the UK today. To celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day 2018, I’d like to look at some of the report’s key findings, so that on this important day we may all make a commitment to reducing the stigma attached to menstruation.
The internet offers good and bad education
Whilst the internet is often a space where derogatory comments lurk on social media pages, or where the negative stereotypes of menstruation are reinforced through sexist memes, it also offers a space for menstruators and non-menstruators alike to educate themselves on the biology and politics surrounding periods. YouTube stars such as Hannah Witton and Byrony Farmer offer informative videos that move away from the traditionally uncomfortable style of menstruation education.
Period myths still prevail
Age-old myths surrounding periods such as, “during your period you can’t go swimming”, or “using a tampon means you’re no longer a virgin” still hold strong today. Through lack of education, menstruators are consuming negative reactions to periods and understanding menstruation as something unpleasant and unnatural. These negative notions then leave menstruators feeling weaker and more irrational than their counterparts, perpetuating sexist stereotypes.
Gender-neutrality needs to be addressed
Not all those who identify as female menstruate, and people who identify as genders other than female also menstruate. This understanding that not all females menstruate is important in the education of menstruators globally. Currently, the transgender/non-binary experience of menstruation means that some young people are being excluded from necessary menstrual education within school settings.
The education system is failing young people
Schools are contributing to the cultural taboos of menstruation and failing to provide high-quality education. Menstruators are having to ask their teachers – in front of their classmates – when they need to use bathrooms. They are being refused access to toilets, and when they do have access, facilities necessary for menstrual health are missing. Many menstruators worry about leaking at school and the humiliation they will face. There is a lack of understanding within the education system and this is further entrenching a culture of embarrassment.
Period poverty is a reality
The level of period poverty in the UK is unacceptably high and found across many regions. But an important distinction Plan UK makes is that period poverty is understood to be relative poverty. Poverty is not just the condition of being without money or food, but also expands to feelings of exclusion and powerlessness. Due to women’s roles in family life it is often female family members who absorb the shock of poverty. For this reason, many young girls go without period products in order to reduce financial burden.
If there is one thing to take away from Plan’s report it’s the need for each of us to commit to listening to menstruators’ experiences. Doing so will open up conversation, which will in turn challenge the current taboos and stigmas. And, talking about menstruation ensures that it remains high on the agenda; forcing governments, corporations and educational institutions to focus on menstrual equality. We can all make a difference today by committing to talking about menstruation until equality is achieved.
Read more, and download the full report at: https://plan-uk.org/act-for-girls/girls-rights-in-the-uk/break-the-barriers-our-menstrual-manifesto