What’s something that women spend an average of 3,000 days doing over the course of their lives, yet rarely talk about? Menstruating! With the typical age of menarche (first period) occurring between 12-13 in developed countries, and an average of two to seven days of menstruation per month-it adds up! Periods add up in other ways, too: some research suggests that U.S. women spend around $2,500 on tampons during their reproductive years.
Meanwhile, for women and girls around the globe, periods are all too often shrouded in shame and stress: talking about it is taboo, feminine hygiene products are expensive and considered a “luxury” item, and side effects are endured in private. This month, we are sharing news and ideas to help end period taboos globally and in the US and encourage health, hygiene, and wellbeing during menstruation.
As Unicef says: ” There are benefits to knowing more about menstruation – it means we are better informed to be part of a solution.”
Although menstruation is considered the regular bleeding that occurs each month, many women cope with irregularities. 14-25% of all women experience irregular periods, including Oligomenorrhea, or infrequent periods. Menorrhagia, or heavy bleeding, or Dysmenorrhea, which means painful side effects like cramps. It is important to talk to your health care provider about your period, especially if you are experiencing irregular menstruation or painful side effects. Your health care provider can help address causes or find solutions to periods that interfere with your quality of life. For some people, hormonal birth control methods help regulate periods and make they more comfortable. In other cases, irregular periods might point to conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis.
Period Taboos and other Challenges
For far too many girls and women, talking about their period can be uncomfortable and getting their period means missing out on important life activities. Particularly in the developing world, stigma associated with periods, as well as lack of access to resources, means that girls and women skip out on educational opportunities, avoid social gatherings, and face mocking and bullying related to menstruation. Throughout history, myths and misinformation related to menstruation meant that menstruating women were seen as cursed, sick, or unclean.
What about those of us who live and work here in the southeast? Those same feelings of shame, misinformation, and lack of adequate resources impact women and girls in the US, too. For many advocates, the fact that menstrual products are taxed, unlike other hygiene and medical products, and are not able to be purchased as necessities with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is a big rallying point. Says advocate Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, who has started a national petition to end “tampon taxes,” when women can not afford menstrual supplies “it actually debilitates them and their ability to be the most productive members of the citizenry as they can.”
As of 2017, eleven states had recently passed or implemented laws exempting feminine hygiene products from sales tax , by deeming them medically necessary. Mandating the provision of tampons and pads in public schools is another strategy to ensure that young women don’t miss out on opportunities because they get their period, or can’t afford to buy supplies.
Finally, advocacy groups around the US work to fill the gaps by providing menstrual products for homeless women and women’s shelters. Homeless women regularly go without any supplies during their periods. Want to help? Many local shelter’s or women’s organizations accept donations of pads and tampons. Consider picking up a box for women in need next time you’re buying menstrual supplies!