The world celebrated the first ever Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, 2014, and we are very happy to be part of this groundbreaking event because it’s been long overdue. The silence and taboo surrounding menstruation not only impedes the rights and dignity of women and girls protected under international law, it sends a dangerous message to young girls that their unique bodies are peripheral, and subordinate to the universe they equally inhabit with the boys/men in their lives.
As Gloria Steinem articulated, “If men could menstruate… menstruation would be an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much. Boys would mark the onset of menses, that longed-for proof of manhood, with religious ritual and stage parties. Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea to help stamp out monthly discomforts. Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free.” As funny as this sounds, it is absolutely true- it reflects the current state of affairs on women/girl’s rights to bodily integrity.
For many girls around the world, life stops, and education halts when menstruation begins. For example, Nigeria’s student to toilet ratio is 500:1, and of the toilets available, they are poorly maintained, lack privacy and changing areas are unsafe. This undermines the social inclusion and educational enrollment/performance and capacity of girls, especially when they are menstruating.
Today, as part of our ongoing journey and exploration of menstruation and menstrual hygiene narratives through storytelling, we asked women to share their first menstrual experience or what they remembered of it.
These stories will debut as individual or thematic blog entries, we welcome you to explore and celebrate the courage, and humor of these women as they share some of the most intimate parts of their lives. If you are interested in sharing your stories and experiences, please contact us.
As you read, take the pledge to Break The Silence on menstruation and help stop #Stigma:
Say it loud and proud:
- I will break the silence on menstruation
- I will not feel shy; I will take pride
- I will spread the word outside and inside the home
First story: Chioma Nwosu, 35yo- Los Angeles
Getting my period at the age of 12 left me feeling very awkward and confused. Growing up in a traditional Nigerian household as the oldest daughter, I had the tasks of scoring highly on schoolwork to, helping my mother with housework chores and setting a good example for my siblings to follow. When I noticed my blood spotted underwear, I knew this was not part of the prescribed program. I hurriedly shared with my mother the horrific news. Instead of taking me to see the doctor, she looked at me with bewildered sternness and caused me feel the type of nervousness one never forgets. Her only words to me were, “Now if you sleep with a man, you’ll be pregnant.” I still remember the chill that ran up my spine and the resounding, “What?!” that fell from my lips and echoed in my mind. What did she mean “sleep with”? Like, in the same bed? What if my baby brother wanted to lay with me (as he often does during the multitudes of summertime thunderstorms)? How could that make me pregnant?! I had so many questions. However, as my mother shrugged and left me to ponder my new circumstances, I knew that I could not rely on her to uncover the answers. This was obviously a topic that made her uncomfortable. Luckily that faithful night, the TV gods supplied me with a re-run of Darlene Conner starting her menses on Rosanne. I remember it like it was yesterday. I saw Darlene struggle with the ‘weirdness’ brought on with change in her body, just as I had. I eagerly listened as Roseanne explained to her second daughter the beauty of nose-diving into womanhood, like I wished my mother had. Suddenly, the chaos that had been introduced into my world by my body’s maturation was put into order. That night and the four days that followed, I marched myself into womanhood. With the help of Roseanne, I better understood this milestone event and realized that as unprepared as I had been about having the conversation regarding menstruation, my mother must’ve been just as petrified.
Second Story: Deborah.A (25yo)-Los Angeles
My experience with menstruation has been one in which I have never felt shame or fear. My parents both completed post-secondary school in America in medical fields and so because of that they didn’t shy away from those types of topics. It also helped that in elementary school by the time you are in the 5th grade (11 years old) you begin taking a class called family life that introduces you to what a “period” is and how families come about. So by the time I started menstruating I was well aware of what was going on. It helped that my parents were knowledgeable about it, I could talk to my mom about what was going on with my body and my dad never protested, like some men might, against being sent to pick up pads for us from the store. Though my experience. I even took it upon myself to desensitize my brother to it! Anytime he tried to be mean to me during my menses I would remind him and he’d get all grossed out and say he didn’t need to know that but I’d say “why not? it’s natural!” The environment in which I grew up went a long way to creating a space in which I could be so comfortable with menstruation. Though my experience with that has been ideal, I can understand how the women and girls in different situations may feel without such a space. In school it was still something that could be a cause of embarrassment, God forbid you leaked through your clothes!