Why Does Menstruation Matter?

Why Does Menstruation Matter?

This piece is the first part of a series between HelloFlo and ZanaAfrica Foundation.

Why does menstruation matter? I was confused by the question.

Was it a question from a child? Like where bees go to sleep and why?

Why does menstruation matter?

Why does breathing matter? Or blinking? It feels like an absurd question because the human body matters. Women’s bodies matter. Their lives matter. A woman’s ability to live her life unencumbered should not be up for discussion. That much is obvious, right?

I asked someone else, a guy friend: “Why does menstruation matter?”

He replied very honestly, “It doesn’t.”

Then I understood.

Why does menstruation matter?

Because some people think it doesn’t.

While certainly some men do care, our society at large seems to not. My friend echoes the inherently patriarchal (read: misogynist) society that we live in, where women’s bodies and their bodily functions are easily dismissed, or rather, are deliberately dismissed. In the UK, for example, there is a ‘tampon tax’ – a tax on tampons classifying them as a frivolous, nonessential good. A good that is necessary only to women is dismissed as unnecessary.

With the dismissal comes shame, particularly around menstruation. Menstruation is not only gross; it’s a gross woman thing. The conversation about our menstruation is carefully policed: women worldwide are taught and made to be silent. From the Instagram banning of a gorgeous photograph featuring a period stain in the US – a natural consequence of the sanitizing of women’s bodies online – to a literal expulsion of menstruating girls from their communities in Nepal, women are kept silent. The simultaneous dismissal and policing of women’s bodies colors every interaction surrounding menstruation.

The silence is perpetuated around the world and the consequences of this can be devastating. Consider Kenya: almost a million girls miss school each year as they lack access to menstrual hygiene products and the corresponding health education. We at the ZanaAfrica Foundation surveyed over 200 girls across the country and found that 37% were chronically worried about leaking during their periods and were therefore unfocused when in school. With little to no quality menstrual health education, 40% do not have they feel safe talking to anyone about their periods, and the silence leads to damaging ignorance: 1 in 2 girls did not know that once they start their periods, they can get pregnant. With menstruation’s direct link to sexual maturity, both biologically and culturally, there is much misinformation: 58% think that standing up during sex is a form of family planning. Being unable to talk about menstruation directly affects their life outcomes, leading to girls dropping out of school at twice the rate of boys, often leading to early and unplanned pregnancies and a deep, pervasive shame tied to their own bodies. The silence rips their lives out from under them.

Why does menstruation matter?

Because they matter.

Because I matter.

I work at the ZanaAfrica Foundation, designing comics that walk alongside young girls in Kenya through educating them on what their period is, why and how it happens, and most importantly, showing girls that their bodies matter, their thoughts matter, their lives matter. I work so those girls know that they can use their voices. To me, not only does menstruation matter, but talking about it as loudly and honestly as we can matters, too.

Today, we stand with over 250 organizations on the second Global Menstrual Hygiene Day. We are calling attention to an inevitable and incredible part of billions of people’s lives. I join the thousands of people who took the time to shout out loud that #MenstruationMatters. We refuse to be dismissed because we know so much is at stake.

There are signs that our voices are being heard and that a public discourse is starting to gain traction. The petition to repeal the tampon tax in the UK has over 234,000 signatures (and counting). Instagram actually apologized and American Apparel even has a menstruation t-shirt! Every article and blog, every campaign, every piece fiction or art, however controversial, every hashtag, every unabashed conversation with your daughter, sister or friend about menstruation, is another voice that rings loud against a silence designed to hide us. With it, we move towards a world where the answer to “Why does menstruation matter?” is “Of course, it does.”

Cover image courtesy of ZanaAfrica.