Founder of the #FreePeriods campaign, 17-year-old activist Amika George explains why bringing period chat out in the open could actually change the world…
It’s funny, isn’t it? In 2017, the world is changing so radically. Societal taboos are being smashed, we tolerate more, dictate less, and embrace change like never before. But, gather together a bunch of your male friends and start talking menstruation and see what happens. For every male that thinks ‘period’ comes at the end of a sentence, there will be another three who scramble to change the subject. Periods just aren’t cool.
Why are we still so uncomfortable talking about periods? When society has advanced so far in recent years, why is there still so much embarrassment, shame and awkwardness around a natural bodily function experienced by every woman since time began? Why do we have to try and invent clever euphemisms to avoid saying we have our period? It’s time ‘Aunty Flo’ and T.O.M left the building along with that ‘visitor’ that shows its face each month. Periods are a process as natural as eating or drinking, so why all smoke and mirrors? Even manufacturers of sanitary products create ambiguous packaging, calling them ‘Whisper’ and ‘Discreet’, while TV ads show metaphorical blue liquid drops falling from the skies onto pillowy pads, and girls rock-climbing in white cropped shorts. As if!
But it goes far further than this in some societies – women are still quarantined when they’re menstruating. In some villages in Western Nepal, the status of a women is considered lower than a dog, simply because she is on her period. Women are kept apart from the rest of the household, banished to sleeping alone in the open elements (a practice called ‘Chhaupadi’), leaving them vulnerable to attack, from snakes – and men.
In some places, a menstruating woman is considered dirty. Women are often banned from prayer or religious activities while menstruating, and told the touch of a woman on her period makes everything she touches ‘unclean’. Even in Italy, an old superstition says women shouldn’t be allowed to make pasta sauce if they have their period.
And so girls start their period and embark upon a journey of silence and shame. They learn from a young age that they are expected to be beautiful creatures, pleasing to the eye and, well, perfect. But periods aren’t pretty. That’s a fact. Sometimes they hurt, sometimes they leak onto our clothes. Bleeding makes us feel imperfect and so we hide it from the world, and feel like we have to pretend it’s not happening.
Not talking about periods means a quiet acceptance of this period taboo, and that is wrong. When over 800 million girls around the world miss one week of school every month, resulting in serious damage to their educational progress, we know we have a huge problem on our hands. Not talking about our periods means that we’re complicit in society’s attempt to make us feel peripheral and useless. It means that in some places women will continue to be treated as outcasts, unable to fight against mistreatment and injustice, and gender equality carries on being a thing across the world.
I started a campaign on behalf of girls in the UK who miss school every month because they can’t afford sanitary products. Because yes, this is happening in the UK too – girls in this country are using socks and newspaper because they can’t afford pads and tampons. We need to stop this. We need the government to listen and provide free sanitary products to girls who need them, so that nobody is held back by something as natural and universal as a period.
Please sign my petition here (it takes just 20 secs!) and let’s show the government that we stand on behalf of our sisters: to banish period taboo, period poverty and elevate all girls to equality, once and for all.