By Karen-Luz Sison
In May 2015, the Canadian government unanimously passed a motion that ended sales tax on feminine hygiene products. The issue came into hot debate when “No Tax on Tampons,” a Change.org petition by feminist activist Jill Plebiak, garnered over 73,000 signatures. While the motion to end tax on tampons has been brought up in Parliament since the 1980s, it was only this year when a decision was finally made to pass this motion in Canada.
The “No Tax on Tampons” motion was a big victory for Canadian women, yet the time it took to even bring the issue to light shows an underlying problem with how feminine hygiene is discussed.
The way the majority of global society deals with menstruation is a significant example of how womanhood is too often associated with shame. This attitude has resulted in a widespread disgust for and ignorance surrounding menstruation, inevitably espousing terrible social and health consequences for women all over the world.
Menstruation is a natural and healthy part of being biologically female, thus it should be a given that menstrual hygiene is a global priority. Unfortunately, particularly in developing countries, this ideal is far from the truth.
For example, in Nepal, chhaupadi, the tradition of isolating girls and women during their periods, is still in practice in rural Nepalese communities, even though the custom was outlawed ten years ago.
In Iran, according to a UNICEF study, 48% of girls believe that menstruation is a disease.
In Japan, some regions exclude menstruating women from holding certain jobs with the idea that menstruating women have an “imbalance” preventing them from working well.
In Malawi, parents don’t talk to their children about menstruation at all, and forbid girls to talk to boys when they are menstruating.
In the United States, menstruation is a particularly difficult challenge for homeless women, who lack access to tampons and sanitary pads; women’s shelters often experience a shortage in donations for these items.
In some countries, women and girls are forced to miss work and school for a week every month because of their periods. Women in developing countries go unpaid for the days they miss work, and girls often end up dropping out of school because they miss too many days of class.
Clearly, taking care of menstruation is a struggle for women worldwide, and women in developing countries have an especially difficult time dealing with their periods. But despite its universality, menstrual health is an unacknowledged struggle because of the negative stereotypes and stigma attached to periods. In order to help provide proper menstrual care facilities and products to women and girls in need, the stigma surrounding periods needs to be replaced with accurate and helpful information. To ignore this problem jeopardizes the education, productivity, health, and dignity of every woman and girl.
It is only through education and informed discussion that shame can be removed. Organizations and events like Menstrual Hygiene Day and Menstrupedia have taken the steps in informing communities about the facts and realities of menstruation. To help spread accurate information and remove taboos, individuals should change the way they talk about menstruation.
We should remove stereotypes and taboos and see periods for what they really are: a healthy, biological cycle girls and women experience.
And there is no shame in needing to safely and properly take care of a completely natural process.