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Eliminate Menstrual Shame

by HwangAlex 30 Jan 2024 0 Comments

Eliminate Menstrual Shame

Let's begin with the obvious: Every woman in human history has experienced a certain period. Every month, the uterine lining sheds, and blood flows out through the vagina (unless she is pregnant, in which case she gets a long reprieve). This process is as natural as eating, drinking, and sleeping, and it's also quite beautiful—there is no humanity without it. However, most of us detest talking about it.

When girls have their first menstruation, they embark on a journey of silence and fear that can last for decades. Menstrual periods can be painful, causing backaches, cramps, not to mention emotional nausea, repeating every month for 30 to 40 years. In public, discussions about periods are as common as discussions about the frequency of diarrhea. Women discreetly tuck pads or tampons into their sleeves on the way to the bathroom, ensuring no one knows it's their "time of the month." Stains on clothes happen. When supplies run out, a wad of toilet paper goes in the underwear.

While these may seem amusing, myths, misunderstandings, and misinformation about periods contribute to shame, causing significant harm to girls, women, and menstruators worldwide.


To some extent, shame exacerbates certain cultural notions about menstruation. In some communities globally, discussing periods is not only considered a natural bodily function but also deemed crude or embarrassing. Though euphemisms like Austria's "strawberry week," Brazil's "I'm with Chico," and South Africa's "Granny is stuck in traffic" may seem harmless, they reinforce the idea that periods are shameful and not worth talking about.

When someone needs menstrual products, they often quietly ask friends or colleagues to avoid being overheard. Few things are more common than a person unexpectedly starting their period and bleeding through their pants in public—a prevalent "awkward moment."

Hindering Women and Girls

Due to suppressed discussions about menstruation, it is widely believed that periods are unclean. This often leads women and girls to feel confined to their homes, excluded from public spaces, or considered unlucky or harmful to others for about a week each month.

The destructive impact of this shame, coupled with poverty, significantly affects girls' education. For instance, across Africa, an estimated one in ten girls may miss school during menstruation, accounting for about 10-20% of class time—potentially leading to dropping out entirely. This puts them at a higher risk of child marriage and early pregnancy, increasing health risks.

Lack of adequate education, coupled with forced early marriage, inevitably leads to reduced employment and income-generating capabilities, hindering women's life opportunities.


Inconvenient Bathroom Use, Home or Away

At any given time, approximately 300 million people globally are menstruating. Given that a quarter of the population lacks access to sufficient toilets, and 11% do not have clean water nearby, many women and girls cannot manage their periods hygienically and safely at home.

Period Education for All Genders

A core challenge in addressing menstrual shame is the lack of menstrual health education in many parts of the world. When it does exist, it often begins later in young people's lives—sometimes even after a girl has her first period. Lack of education before menstruation means that initial reactions may involve fear, shame, and embarrassment. Furthermore, insufficient menstrual education results in a lack of understanding of menstrual hygiene products. Consequently, many women, girls, and individuals cannot truly control the products they use or dispose of and clean them appropriately based on personal, environmental, cultural, and societal considerations.

Some sex education programs even omit menstrual health or exclude boys, missing a crucial opportunity to address menstrual shame from an early age. While women and girls have long been responsible for leading change in this area, men and boys can and should play a role in changing negative attitudes and secrecy surrounding menstruation.

How to Normalize Menstruation


They say ignorance is bliss, and, to a large extent, they are right. When it comes to menstrual shame, ignorance perpetuates jokes and misconceptions about menstruation, allowing our girls to continue growing up in a society that mocks women and their natural menstrual bodies. Ignorance further roots the problem.

So educate yourself. Understand menstruation to have a full grasp of what is happening and why. Educate others.

Read about the various stages of the menstrual cycle. Understand how hormones affect the body (yes, males have hormones too!) and how premenstrual syndrome impacts women's physical and emotional health. Each step challenges ignorance.

Openly Discuss Menstruation Without Shame

The simplest action one can take to end menstrual shame is to avoid engaging in vague discussions. By openly talking about any topic, we can help eliminate societal rules against discussing it. This can be done with friends and family, colleagues, acquaintances, or within a broader scope.

If you speak without using euphemisms or a hushed tone, those around you will become accustomed to hearing that menstruation is a normal and natural biological function.


Benefits of Normalizing Menstruation for Mental Health

Through these actions, menstrual shame, even if not entirely eliminated, can be significantly reduced. Apart from tangible benefits like reducing absenteeism, eliminating menstrual shame also has positive emotional effects on everyone experiencing menstruation. The pressure on people regarding this topic is alleviated, and they no longer feel worried or embarrassed to discuss it when needed.

Since shame lowers self-esteem, eliminating menstrual shame can make people happier and healthier, solely based on this factor. Everyone can benefit from normalizing menstruation, regardless of whether it's one of their biological functions.


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