(Written for the Guiding Star Project)
Period positivity can be defined as the practice of accepting menstruation as a normal and healthy process. But what is it for, why be 'period positive'?
In some parts of the world, where girls are literally quitting school because of a lack of menstrual care products, or find themselves ostracized from daily life because of a cultural belief that menstruation is dirty, widespread period positivity could make headway against inequality, oppression, and lost opportunity. Its value is evident.
But what what about in more familiar settings? Mainstream Western culture's version of 'period shaming' is certainly much less devastating, but it still exists in the form of misinformation, embarrassment, and lack of access to quality care. This is pretty surprising considering that menstruation is a basic bodily function of half the population.
I am encouraged by the recent cry against the period taboo. Periods are being discussed in the media, and 2015 has even been dubbed 'The Year of the Period'. More and more women are rejecting cycle-suppressing drugs, practicing fertility awareness, discussing their bodies, and feeling more comfortable simply acknowledging their periods.
But to what end? Period positivity, of course, can result in a self-esteem boost for women. Girl power, right? When we learn about the intricacies of our cycles, we feel comfortable in our own skin, more self-aware, and more confident in our womanhood. As a fertility educator, I've certainly promoted these things. And while all of this is great, I think period positivity can have a deeper impact than simply self-empowerment.
For example; think of the potential of period positivity to improve community health. A young woman who is too embarrassed to discuss her period (even with her mother!) will be less likely to talk to her doctor if she's experiencing abnormal pain or heavy bleeding. A woman who understands her monthly cycle of bleeding and cervical mucus can tell the difference between normal vaginal discharge and a yeast infection. A woman who feels no shame surrounding her period is more likely to educate herself about the impact of her lifestyle choices on her cycle health and fertility. By promoting a period friendly culture, we are helping our neighbors, sisters, mothers, daughters and friends to be healthier.
I also believe that period positivity could foster closer relationships. Imagine what it would be like if there were no awkwardness surrounding periods. Menarche (a girl's first period) could be celebrated as a rite of passage, helping to begin the dialogue between parents and daughters regarding growing up, healthy relationships, sexuality and self-respect. Wives could feel more comfortable sharing this part of their lives with their husbands, increasing communication, understanding and intimacy. Friends could help to bear one another's burdens. Fathers, brothers, friends and boyfriends could better understand and appreciate the women in their lives.
Finally, cultivating period positivity in our own lives can spur us on to social action. Most of us are blessed in that our periods don't interfere with our ability to get an education, go to work, or participate in our communities. Not everyone is so fortunate. Thankfully, there are many organizations working to improve access to quality menstrual care products, as well as end the period stigma, in impoverished and developing nations. If this is an issue that is close to your heart, then perhaps it's time to get involved. Here are some ideas:
Project Dignity: Founded by Sue Barnes, this organization distributes packs of washable, 100% cotton panties and pads to high school girls in rural communities. This product is designed to last for five years. Project Dignity hopes to end school absenteeism due to menstruation. With 32,000 packs given out so far, they’re well on their way to changing the future of South Africa by keeping girls in school and giving them a chance to pursue their dreams.
Days for Girls - providing access to safe and sustainable menstrual hygiene products for women and girls around the world.
Get involved locally - donate menstrual care products to your local homeless shelter, food pantry or domestic violence shelter.
Have another idea or worthy organization to share? Please comment below!
Don't be satisfied with simple self-empowerment. Be period positive and pass it on!