Pretty much every woman who menstruates I’ve spoken to describes their first period as ‘the day I became a woman’. It’s like this almighty secret we all share but secretly you are kind of proud to have reached that milestone as well as some embarrassment about having to have a ‘special drawer’ in the bathroom now.
What is a familiar story for us women here in the UK, is often a very different one for women in developing countries. It can be traumatic for any women to get her period, especially when it is unexpected or you are not ready for it. I dread to think what this must be like for these women in different parts of the world where ‘the day they became a woman’ was filled with shame and confusion.
For something that is so natural and those woman who do menstruate will spend thousands of days in their lifetime experiencing it, the shame and silence around periods is absolutely nonsensical. Despite the fact around 800 million women around the world, including those who identify as male or non-binary, are menstruating and to many it should still be kept a secret. Why?
You may have seen a petition created by Plan International intended to decide on a universal period emoji to be used on social media platforms. This came about when the charity carried out research to ask 2,000 woman aged 18 to 34 about discussing their periods.
In this ‘modern’ age 7 out of 10 said that they felt uncomfortable discussing their periods with male co-workers and only 1 in 3 said they were comfortable to discuss it with their female bosses. What is even more appalling is that half the young women who were at school said they felt ashamed discussing it with their female teachers and 75% said they wouldn’t even attempt it with their male teachers.
It is becoming more and more clear that the moment the gender gap starts showing it’s head in the lives of lots of woman, is the first day their uterus does its thing. With more and more young girls skipping school because of the shame of their periods and even worse so, not being able to afford menstrual hygiene products, it is hard to imagine the unfair treatment on woman in developing countries.
Last year, a young women in Nepal suffocated to death because she was forced to sleep in a shed while she was menstruated. She was ostracised by the members of her community following superstitions around menstruation and the belief that this natural process is in fact unnatural and dirty.
There is absolutely no doubt, that us women in the UK who can afford it are extremely lucky to have such easy access to menstrual hygiene products. That being said, the taboo still effects us massively and we still quickly shove our tampons and pads in our bags hoping no one sees. Why in 2017 are women still disadvantaged by a natural human function? Periods can be god awful at times, so why are we suffering in silence and not sharing our pain or emotion together?
Let’s face it – periods can be shit. They are painful, messy and smelly but does that mean women should be shamed for it?
There are always the same PMS jokes that to some may seem funny, but to the women experiencing their period it is just another disguised form of misogyny. God forbid a woman jokes about the size of a man’s penis, then that’s just sexist.
Things are definitely changing, that has to be said. Italy has now allowed menstrual leave for working women but progress is still at snail pace which is why Plan International are calling for a period emoji. The aim of this is to breakdown the shame and silence surrounding periods and with 92% of the population using emoji’s everyday to communicate, who can say it would be useless?
If we plan to make any progress to achieve gender equality, we need to first encourage everyone to talk about their period or with those who do, and to challenge the idea that there is something shameful and wrong with menstruation and girls’ bodies.
It’s time to stop discriminating against a bodily function that makes humankind a possibility. A Facebook user commented on a yahoo regarding the topic saying ‘how often do people talk about their periods to need an emoji?’
My response? How often are people talking about eggplants or a long nosed goblin that they need those?
To support the campaign and vote for an emoji, visit the Plan UK official campaign website. The winning design will be submitted – with a detailed proposal – to the Unicode Consortium for consideration for inclusion on the 2018 global emoji keyboard. Voting closes 5pm Friday June 2. Support Plan’s work to improve the lives of girls worldwide.