Ask anyone who menstruates, and they will tell you that periods are no fun. The fear of “Aunt Flo” arriving too early or too late each month is something that women have had to grow accustomed to, along with the pain of course, and whispers in bathrooms of "do you have an extra tampon?" Yet, perhaps worst of all is the period stigma that Canadian women must face.
What is period stigma?
Period stigma is the idea that menstruation is a taboo subject- that it is gross and shameful; however, this could not be further from the truth.
Period stigma can present itself in many ways. Many cultures around the world hold beliefs and superstitions that consider a woman who is menstruating to be bad luck. As a result, women are forbidden to partake in certain daily activities.
More specifically, in Canada, period stigma often takes the form of avoiding conversations about menstruation and saying degrading remarks that paint women as "moody." A typical example of this is the expression "it must be that time of the month” being used when a woman shows emotions. Remarks such as these are appallingly common in Canada; according to a 2019 survey of 2000 cis women, “41% of female respondents said they’ve been occasionally or regularly teased by a male about being on their period, including by friends, colleagues and relatives.”
What are the effects of period stigma?
Period stigma causes issues surrounding menstruation to go unsolved. Many women feel isolated when it comes to their periods, with about six in ten (58%) of Canadian women aged 14 to 55 have felt the need to lie about being on their period or hide a menstrual product. This feeling of isolation can also lead to women not seeking help if health concerns arise related to their periods.
Additionally, Plan International Canada found that women often miss out on school or other daily activities due to their periods. The results showed that 83% of women feel that their period prevents them from fully participating in activities, and 70% said that they have missed school, work, or other activities due to their period. This data is shocking, as it shows that menstruation keeps women out of school and work, which can affect their education and ability to work, thus affecting Canada's economy.
Another enormous issue that is yet to be resolved is period poverty in Canada. Research shows that 1 in 3 Canadian women are unable to afford menstrual products. These products are essential for female hygiene, and without them, women are once again forced to miss school and other activities due to menstruation. Women and girls may also be forced to use unconventional items in place of menstrual products, which can cause serious health problems.
Over the past decade, many women have fought against these issues by creating charities, such as The Period Purse, raising awareness, and donating menstrual products to those in need. However, period stigma and period poverty are still huge issues. These concerns are ones that Canadian women have had to face mainly on their own for generations, and now it is time for more men to step up.
Why is this not just a woman's problem?
Women make up 50% of Canada's population, meaning that if women are experiencing an issue, half of the population is struggling.
Unfortunately, it seems to be mostly men who continue to feed period stigma, because the stereotypes of PMS and derogatory statements about menstruation come from those who do not understand periods. Therefore, educating men and boys on menstruation is extremely important. It is time to normalize talking about periods in order to overcome the hurdles that period stigma presents.
A recent study found that “less than half (47%) of male respondents aged 14 to 55 said they feel comfortable talking about women’s health, including periods.” According to the President and CEO of Plan International Canada, Caroline Riseboro, “It’s time we make progress on this and recognize that it isn’t only a women’s issue. When we advance the conversation around menstruation and take positive action to address needs, we’re advancing gender equality. It’s about a daughter feeling she can openly talk with her father and his comfort in providing accurate information. Similarly, an employee should be able to walk to the washroom with a menstrual product and not feel the need to hide it.”
How can I help?
One of the most potent weapons in a war against stigma is education. It is essential for both boys and girls to be taught about menstruation, whether through a school health program or a parent. This will help to normalize conversations on periods and will squash negative stereotypes.
It is also critical to speak up. The next time you hear a derogatory statement about menstruation, take the opportunity to stand up and explain why it is hurtful and incorrect.
Taking the time to volunteer or donate to an organization that is fighting period poverty in Canada is also a great way to help in this fight against gender discrimination.