I got my first period when I was 10 years-old.
I remember going straight to my mother when I started menstruating. I did not feel shameful or embarrassed because we had talked about it — both my parents are nurses and nothing body-related was ever taboo, it was merely medical. But things started to shift when my mother explained to me that she had mentioned that significant event in my life to one of her male friends. I thought she had betrayed a serious secret — it was fine for my parents to know, but no other men should ever hear about it, because they’d probably think that I was gross.
The emotion I experienced is very likely how most women feel or have felt about about their period: It is something we need to hide and never talk about with men, sometimes not even with our own fathers, partners, or husbands. We have no problem sharing stories of PMS, stained sheets and underwear, tampons, etc. with fellow women, even those we barely know, but God forbid we share even a tiny bit of information about the monthly ritual with a male.
Here is what, we, women do to shield males from our periods:
We, women, have special little pouches in our schoolbags, purses, briefcases in which we hide the devices that we need to go through menstruation (tampons, pads, menstrual cups and enough Midol to tranquilize a horse) from men whom we think could not withstand the sight of such disgusting items.
We, women, regularly jump awkwardly in front mirrors, windows, and car windshields to check if our pants are not stained. If that’s the case, we worry about how long we’ve been walking around with the mark of the devil on our butts, if anyone’s seen it, and how we’re going to hide it from men for the rest of the day. (The possible responses are: Tie a sweater around your waist and/or never take off your coat).
We, women, hit the bathroom every two hours on the dot to “clean up”. This is something we have to do to prevent the embarrassment aforementioned, even if we are in a meeting, taking an exam, on a road trip or sleeping peacefully.
We, women, never complain in front of males about the tenderness in our breasts and the horrible cramps in our abdomens; even if they are as painful as a heart attack, it is not worth shocking the men with the fact that our uterus is, once again, shedding its lining, sending blood flowing out of our vagina.
We, women, try to not let the discomfort of our period to have too much influence on our behaviour and our emotions, because if we do, we’ll be called crazy, hysterical, or my personnal favourite, bitchy.
Women bleed. Big Fat Deal.
Why are we wasting our time and energy doing everything possible to pretend that our period doesn’t exist when we all know that every woman in the history of humanity has or had her period and that there would be no human race without our bleeding?
It’s time we start to talk about period like the unavoidable natural process that it is, not as something repulsive.
Rupi Kaur is one of the women who want to break the stigma by doing just that. In 2015, the Canadian author and poetess posted the following picture on Instagram.
The image was taken down twice before Instagram apologized and said it was deleted “accidentally”. Rupi Kaur argued that to see women’s boobs, women’s butts, and often women’s genitalia fully exposed on the platform was simply accepted, while a blood stain showing the reality of what being female is was too much to take.
The image received almost 91 thousand “likes” on Instagram and incredible media attention.
More recently, during an interview, Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui broke the stigma by admitting that she was on her period, and that it was affecting her performance during the Rio Olympics. That remark also got a very positive response online.
Although these examples are steps taken in the right direction, we, women, want more.
We want to see advertisements on TV that show the reality of women’s period, not a dream-like versions featuring women wearing tight white pants and running in the sunset while blue liquid is supposedly coming out of their ying-yang, landing in some incredibly absorbent pads.
We want the dreadful consequences of this stigma to end in countries such as Uganda, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, etc. where the lack of hygienic menstrual products and sanitary facilities, as well as the strong social taboo associated with girls’ period hold them back from attending school, damaging forever girls’ future.
We want to see women’s bodies taken for what they are, not only for men’s consumption.
Kotex commits R43 million over three years to Plan International to expand menstrual hygiene education and access
The global COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the strength of women around the world who are leading the response as doctors, nurses, scientists, engineers, farmers, public servants, volunteers and in many other essential roles. At the same time, the job loss resulting from the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women and has left more than 743 million girls in 185 countries out of school.
In response, Kimberly-Clark and its Kotex brand are engaging consumers, communities and employees in a global effort, the Kotex She Can Initiative, to fight stigmas within society, ensure access to education, and open doors for women and girls to pursue their dreams.
“The stigma attached to menstruation or simply the lack of access to products will keep millions of women and girls from pursuing dreams of becoming one of those heroes on the front lines,” said Juanita Pelaez, Kimberly-Clark. “The Kotex She Can Initiative is a long-term effort to build a future where a period never gets in the way of any woman’s progress.”
Kimberly-Clark’s commitment to menstrual hygiene was born from insights of women working as war-time nurses more than 100 years ago, who stitched together hygiene pads made from Kimberly-Clark’s cellucotton bandages so they could stay on the front lines during their period. When the Kotex brand was introduced in 1920, the stigma attached to menstruation required it to be sold in a plain, unmarked box behind a pharmacy counter.
One hundred years later, the company and the Kotex brand remain focused on eliminating stigmas, improving access and improving key outcomes for women and girls in the areas of education and overall health and wellness. The days of South African women and girls feeling and being made to feel dirty or other are coming to an end. Anecdotal evidence suggests that lack of adequate sanitary wear might result in young girls, particularly of high school age, missing school while menstruating and one study found that adolescent girls in South Africa can miss up to five days of school per month due to menstruation. Furthermore, the shame and privacy surrounding menstruation makes access to sanitary wear even more scares and therefore increasing the stigma around periods.
“Days like Menstrual Hygiene Day are important because they provide the platform to engage openly around menstruation. Kotex She Can Initiative is committed to continue educating society as a whole that menstruation is a normal bodily function in a female body,” says Nthabiseng Leso, Kotex SA Marketing Manager.
The Kotex She Can Initiative will focus its social impact of Kimberly-Clark’s feminine care brands in four key areas:
Kimberly-Clark and Kotex are sponsors of Menstrual Hygiene Day, a global awareness program launched by WASH United in 2014 to bring global attention to the lack of menstrual hygiene management access, education and sanitation affecting millions of women and girls.
“Over the past five months, we’ve donated millions of Kotex products to COVID-19 response and relief efforts around the world,” adds Pelaez. “We know that we can do more to help her rebuild the future of our communities, and the Kotex She Can Initiative will provide sustained support for women and girls whose futures can be changed through access to period supplies, community education and an independent future.”
Just the other day on Monday 28 May, the world celebrated Menstrual Hygiene Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness on different issues surrounding menstruation. In today’s post, I highlight five Kenyan women who have started initiatives around menstruation, women who are champions for menstrual health. I hope they will inspire you, just like they have me. If you know of more women who are doing great things in the community, you can email me on [email protected] with a summary of their initiatives, and contact details. So here are the five women:
Makena is the editor of a local beauty magazine, and is a mother of three girls. She regularly donates sanitary towels to girls in children’s homes, schools as well as women in prisons. She says:
“I have always wanted to give back to the society, and pads seemed close to my heart. I mobilise my friends who help me buy these pads. Some of them send me money for this cause, while others donate pads, which I then distribute to these girls and women in need. A friend introduced me to a place where they make subsidized pads and with only 450 shillings, I am able to buy a year’s supply of pads for one girl. That is an average cost of lunch in Nairobi today.”
Christine Mwaka Mvurya is the First Lady of Kwale County. She has a passion for women and girl empowerment and over the last three years, she has been centrally involved in related activities through her organization –Fanikisha Foundation.
Ms. Mvurya is a Menstrual Hygiene Management champion and uses her platforms of influence to address different issues surrounding menstruation, such as dispelling of myths and taboos about periods, addressing stigma and isolation of women during their menses, advocating for every girl’s access to sanitary towels –especially school-going girls who may miss school during their periods due to lack of pads, or toilets where they can comfortably change their pads. Ms. Mvurya is passionate about seeing to it that all girls and women are able to be confident and comfortable during their periods. She is a wife and mother of four boys.
Lucy Wanjiku Njenga
Lucy Wanjiku Njenga is the founder of Positive Young Women’s Voices (PYWV), an organization that promotes access to healthcare for girls and young women –especially those in Dandora. It advocates for their economic empowerment and facilitates mentorship opportunities for them. One of the activities of her organization is the sanitary pads drive titled: Adopt a Girl’s Month Initiative, where with a donation of Sh300, you adopt a girl’s month. Through this, a girl will receive 2 packets of sanitary pads, a pen and a book. She says:
“We have taken up one private school in our community called Mt. Zion High School, where they have a total of 55 girls in the school. Our girls will no longer miss school becase we are there for them. These girls don’t have to use all manner of things to go through their periods, or get into risky behaviour just to afford pads. It’s her right to enjoy life, to enjoy her womanhood.”
Lucy is a mother of a beautiful two year-old daughter.
Elsie Wandera started her periods when she was 13 years old. But her menses came with indescribable pain. She says of her experience: “Every month, my periods would be accompanied by severe abdominal pain that would see me leave class many times to go lay down in the school’s sanatorium. I would feel as though the insides of my abdomen were being knotted, tugged at and pulled apart in all directions. It was as though my abdomen was being stabbed by a thousand knives.” Read More.
Today, at 38 years, Elsie she still continues to battle with endometriosis. Endometriosis is basically extremely painful and debilitating periods. To raise awareness about the condition, she founded the Endometriosis Foundation of Kenya (EFK), an avenue she uses to advocate for improved treatment options for women who suffer from endometriosis, as well as influence government policies on the same. EFK also has a support group that offers emotional and psychological support to women with endometriosis. It helps them know that they are not alone. Elsie can be reached on [email protected]
In 2016, Esther launched Yellow Endo Flower to help demystify period-shaming, to teach girls about periods and menstrual health, and to create awareness about endometriosis. Esther is an endometriosis warrior. Last year, she published a book on menstrual health called Bloom, through which she teaches girls and women about how a period should look and feel, explore sanitary options and encourage girls and women to employ healthy practices about menstruation.
The book also teaches them about the importance of keeping a period diary. Esther is also a menstrual health educator, who spends her time educating school girls about menstruation. She also conducts menstrual health trainings in schools, churches and other organized groups. Esther is a mother of two girls. You can reach her through email: [email protected]
So those are the five women that I have featured today. Are you a menstrual health champion or do you know of any other woman who is? Feel free to email me at [email protected] with more information.
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Mummy Tales is a blog dedicated to empowering its readers on different aspects of maternal and newborn health, as well as various issues surrounding motherhood and women. Read more motherhood experiences of Kenyan moms here . Connect with Mummy Tales on : YOU TUBE l FACEBOOK l INSTAGRAM l TWITTER