Period stigma may just sound like something unfair but actually, there are harmful consequences associated with it. 

And because it can come about in a variety of ways, many of which lead to a lower quality of life, illnesses, and worse, these societal issues are widespread and often debilitating.

This shouldn’t be the case when in fact, period stigma is merely a product of myths, miscommunication, misconceptions, and misinformation. 

It doesn’t serve a useful purpose at all but rather, harms those who suffer because of it.

After all, menstruation is a normal, natural, and healthy part of the reproductive cycle.

So, let’s talk about period stigma, how it affects some menstruating women, and how everyone could work towards making a change. 

Period stigma is a broad term for the discrimination faced by those who menstruate. And there are many different ways that this discrimination can read its ugly head.

To name a few: lack of access to sanitation supplies, financial difficulties, reduced education and less job opportunities, verbal shaming such as using the words “dirty” or “unclean”, and women feeling embarrassed or ashamed of their period. 

In the bigger scheme of things however, how does period stigma affect the women who menstruate?

The harmful effects of period stigma

Women feeling embarrassed and ashamed, being called names because of their period, and not having proper access to menstrual products is only the tip of the iceberg. 

There are so many profoundly harmful effects of period stigma that can change the trajectory of people’s lives for the worse. 

Here are some of the harmful effects of period stigma:

1. Implications due to a lack of education

Did you know that 1 in 10 girls across Africa miss school during their period (10-20% of school days)? This can carry a number of negative consequences. 

For example, many school-going girls might decide to drop out of school altogether because they’re falling behind and unable to get the adequate education they need with so many missed days. 

This could lead to a greater risk of them becoming child brides and/or falling pregnant

Not just that, but it’s highly likely that they’ll struggle to find work because of their lower levels of education. 

The result is often life-threatening economic issues and hardships, and possibly the cycle repeating itself. 

2. Unsafe & unsanitary living conditions aka period poverty

In some developing countries, there is a lack of or no access to adequate toilets or clean water. And while this affects everyone involved, girls and women have an even bigger burden to carry as they’re unable to manage their monthly period in a safe and hygienic way. 

Additionally, many of these developing countries lack a reliable source of supplies and solutions, making it difficult for girls and women to leave home for school or work. This can have major implications on one’s mental and physical health, among other things.

But the thing is, period poverty exists in both developing and developed countries. For many, choosing between food or menstrual products is a reality. And for others, access to menstrual hygiene products and facilities is not even an option. 

In fact, the World Bank estimates that at least 500 million women and girls across the globe don’t have access to things they need to manage their menstruation.  

The UN Women added to the consequences of period poverty with their statistics. It was found that, in 2019, 1.25 billion women and girls had no access to a safe, private toilet, and 526 million did not have a toilet at all. 

Truth be told, this is a human rights issue, resulting in a lack of dignity and the removal of the right to bodily autonomy.

3. Medical implications

It’s been estimated that half of women and girls who lack access to period products and women’s health services in some developing countries often have to make use of rags, grass, or paper during menstruation. This itself can be dangerous and can cause infections. 

Additionally, female genital mutilation (FGM) is still rife in some African countries today. This will contribute to the dangers and medical issues associated with not having the adequate products and facilities during menstruation.

And then let’s talk about ancient rituals that take place in some countries. Chhaupadi for example is practiced in some parts of rural Nepal and involves girls and women being shunned to huts sheds during their period because menstruation is seen as “bad luck”. There, they have no access to the things they need, which can lead to a range of health issues as well as physical and psychological hardships.

Despite this however, many people around the world still view things such as menstruation and PMS as a joke, telling girls and women that they’re “moody” because it’s “that time of the month” when in fact, it is a medical issue and a women’s health issue.

4. Body shaming

Period stigma can have a profoundly negative effect on the way in which a girl or woman sees herself. 

For example, this stigma can lead to decreased levels of physical and mental well-being, lower levels of sexual satisfaction and expectations, and make them feel as if they have a lower social status. 

This is only made worse by certain rituals that see menstruation as “dirty” or “unclean”.

Take religion for example. There is a traditional Jewish term called “niddah” which is when a woman sleeps separately from her husband when she has her period. And in Islam, women are seen as “impure” during menstruation and are thus excused from prayers.

And then there are harmful myths that have body shaming effects. One being that some still believe that using a tampon will take away a girl’s virginity

5. Shame & embarrassment 

While we just touched on body shaming, there is more to be said here: period shaming. 

In an article written by Valerie Seibert called, Nearly Half of Women Have Experienced ‘Period Shaming’, it mentions that “58 percent of women have felt a sense of embarrassment simply because they were on their period.”

Take period product advertisements for example. Are these adverts a realistic depiction of monthly periods? 

Firstly, not only do the women in these ads look as though they love their period, but the text in menstrual ads often portray themes of secrecy, shame, and purity. 

Even Kotex, a popular brand of female hygiene products, once said in their 2013 ad, “Don’t worry. Even your biggest crush won’t know you’re on your period”. 

Then, of course, girls and women have been socialized to believe that asking for, using, or buying menstrual products is embarrassing and shameful. 

Think about school girls who try to hide their pads or tampons by putting them up their sleeve before leaving class to visit the restroom. 

Or what about women at work who feel as though they have to do the same, or feel some form of embarrassment when they take a small bag with them to the bathroom. 

The thing about period shaming though, is that it prevents open conversations at school, at home, and in the media. This, in turn, is preventing acceptance and creating more harm for a bodily function that is healthy and necessary.

6. Tampon tax

Then of course, one should consider something called “tampon tax”. In some countries, period products are seen as a luxury or a non-essential item for VAT purposes. FYI: it’s not! For that reason, menstrual products are even more expensive than they should be. 

And while many countries have now abolished tampon tax, it is still “a thing” in some countries. 

Why? Well, one reason is that VAT can be an important source of revenue for governments. Think about that for a minute.

At the end of the day, there’s a lot that can be done to help remove period stigma. 

For one, adequate period education in schools for all genders, open conversations with parents and their children (including their sons), and avoiding code words such as “Aunt Flo”. 

But also, advocating for improved access to menstrual products, better facilities, and better support. 

Everyone can play a role in trying to remove period stigma and to celebrate this life-giving monthly occurrence. 

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