On any given day hundreds of millions of people around the world have their periods. This normal and natural process is as old as humanity itself. And yet millions of women, girls, and others who menstruate feel ashamed, embarrassed, or ostracized simply because they bleed.
Period stigma can have serious consequences for those who face it, and people in developing nations and those living in poverty are especially vulnerable.
Check out DCP’s newest offering: Tigress, a podcast hosted by menstrual equity and mental health activist Nadya Okamoto.
How Stigma of Menstruation Manifests
Religious, cultural, and social stigma of menstruation is still unfortunately common around the world. It manifests in many ways. Here are some of the most common:
Discrimination and shaming
Period-related discrimination and shaming can take on many forms. A person perceived as being aggressive or moody might be accused of “PMS-ing” or being “on the rag.”
In some cultures, women are forced to sleep in a separate bed or banished from the bedroom while menstruating. Others are called “dirty” or “unclean.” This kind of discrimination can lead to intense feelings of shame and ostracization.
Taboos around discussing periods
Refusing to talk about menstruation in a straightforward way—by using code words like “That Time of the Month” or “Code Red”—reinforces the idea that discussing periods is not acceptable. Talking about menstruation in hushed tones is also unhelpful.
Lack of access to period products
Not having access to basic necessities, like period pads and tampons, is a common problem in developing countries and in underserved communities everywhere.
Nearly 17 million people who menstruate in the U.S. live in poverty, and more than two-thirds of women with a low income could not afford menstrual products in the last year.
Those who can’t afford menstrual products may resort to using items like socks or even newspapers instead. This can lead to infection.
Period Stigma Hurts Women and Girls
For too long menstruating girls and women have been prohibited or restricted from full participation in public life. Poverty that prevents access to menstrual products, and cultural attitudes that bar menstruating women from public spaces or even their homes can take a huge emotional toll.
Sadly, those who should have been a source of care and comfort for menstruating women all along—healthcare professionals—have themselves contributed to stigmatization around menstruation. We’re still living with the consequences of that stigmatization in the form of a significant “knowledge gap” between what doctors know about female (versus male) bodies.
Black women and girls bear an especially large burden. They have faced higher levels of discrimination by healthcare professionals both because of their skin color and their gender, and their reproductive issues have routinely been dismissed or pathologized.
When women don’t get appropriate care because of period stigma, the consequences can be downright dangerous. People who feel ashamed about menstruation may not be comfortable seeking out information or talking about it—even with trusted friends or healthcare providers.
And yet it’s vital for menstruators to be in tune with their bodies and know what’s normal for them in order to recognize when something might be wrong.
Fighting the Stigma
Thankfully, things are changing. Dubbed “The Year of the Period,” 2015 brought a noticeable shift in tone in how we talk about periods and menstrual health.
Propelled in part by social media and Gen Z activism, advertisements for period products are finally starting to portray more accurately what actually goes into a menstrual pad (hint: periods are not blue), and companies like Bodyform UK are shattering boundaries when it comes to telling women’s stories around menstruation and pregnancy.
In 2019, the U.S. celebrated its very first National Period Day. It was the brainchild of menstrual equity activist and podcaster Nadya Okamoto, whose organization, PERIOD, advocated for legal and social change around periods.
5 Ways to Normalize Menstruation
Here are five things you can do right now to normalize periods and end stigma around menstruation:
Talk about periods openly.
Avoid using code names for periods, like “Aunt Flo.”
Advocate for improved access to sanitation products.
Push for period-friendly policies in workplaces and schools.
Fight back against period discrimination and shaming.
Let’s create a better, more equitable world for women, girls, and everyone who menstruates.
Want more great content?
Check out the Tigress podcast hosted by Nadya Okamoto—a champion for menstrual equity and mental health. Nadya muses about where she’s been, where she’s going, and how she’s learning to channel her inner tigress.