The average woman spends 35,000 days on their period in total - that’s almost 10 years. But the world we live in is still one that stigmatises and ignores a natural process which affects around half of the world’s population.
Aunt Flo, Time of the Month, Shark Week, Crimson Wave… the list goes on. There’s thought to be over 5000 euphemisms for the word period. Once when I was asked by a male relative if I was on my period, he came up to me, lowered his voice so he was basically whispering, cleared his throat to try and make it sound slightly less awkward and said, “is it... you know... thattimeofthemonth?” I, to his horror, shouted very obnoxiously, “YES I AM ON MY PERIOD THANKS FOR ASKING”. He was mortified, but I felt victorious; why should it be my problem that my ‘problem’ is too problematic even to name?
The idea that the word ‘period’ is some universal trigger that will launch a nuclear bomb, or for whatever reason that no one seems to be able to say it, is essentially just the beginning of period stigma.
Although companies, charities and campaign groups are desperately trying to change this, ancient traditions and myths surrounding women on their periods continue to run rampant, these include ideas that women on their periods are ‘unclean’, and many communities still shun women and exclude them from society for a week until they are properly cleansed and ready to return.
But the stigma is not only frustrating for me and my wild feminist/period hormones, but it also has actual huge impacts on women in wider society. Period poverty is still a huge issue, and although it seems a far removed, according to Bodyform UK, 1 in 10 women in the UK live in period poverty, meaning thousands of women struggle to afford sanitary products today. And that’s in a country where everyone is supposed to have access to free medical assistance. In the US, over 35% of women are thought to live in period poverty. Period poverty encompasses all the aspects of the shame, discomfort and fear that comes with simply not being able to prevent blood from going all over your clothes. It leads to huge economic and social disparity: preventing women from going to work and school.
Over 137,700 girls in the UK were thought to have missed some school from period poverty in 2017, according to a study conducted by Free Periods. If that figure doesn’t disgust you, I genuinely have no clue what will. If 137,700 children couldn’t afford a plaster for a cut on their knee and they had to miss school for it, there would be national outrage about the price of plasters. But the taboo surrounding bleeding uteri has meant that very few people for a very long time have said anything. In fact, it’s so stigmatised, that it only got added to the national curriculum to be taught in secondary schools in 2020.
Periods have been plunging people into poverty, with the average woman in 2018 having to spend £500 a year on period related supplies. Until January 2019, tampons weren’t excluded from VAT, as they were deemed non-essential items. By the way, crocodile steaks are excluded from this tax.
Clearly, menstrual health is less important than eating an animal for dinner. Whoever it was who made that decision, sitting on their fancy chair in the European Parliament, had clearly never menstruated. It’s not a luxury item. It’s a necessity, and for millions of women across the globe, it’s an unaffordable one.
But despite the pretty bleak picture I’ve painted, I think it’s time to recognise some of the amazing people and work that has been done that is starting to turn this all around. Laura Coryton, for example, created the #.StopTaxingPeriods campaign to get rid of the VAT tax on tampons. After a long time and a lot of campaigning she got the result women across the country were waiting for; tampons are no longer taxed.
Coryton also runs the social enterprise Sex Ed Matters, starting honest conversations about consent, LGBTQ+ Rights and period education, to get rid of a long-standing taboo.
Other foundations such as Bloody Good Period highlight the importance of conversation and fundraising to help prevent period poverty.
You can read our interview with Laura Coryton to find more resources, charities and ways to get involved and help fight an outdated set of ideas that has fundamentally undermined women’s equality for thousands of years.