Menstruation has always been a topic surrounded by taboos and myths. Of the millions of people menstruating around the world, many of them still feel shame and embarrassment about their natural bodily functions.
Our menstrual cycle is given to us by nature and is something to be proud of rather than hiding away. When there is more open discussion and education, we can begin a cycle that creates dignity around periods. Battling period poverty and stigma develops a society that not only accepts but values the beautiful, cyclical nature of our bodies.
Dignity is a sense of pride and self-respect in oneself. What, then, is period dignity? Period dignity is the access and availability of essentials needed to support a period together with the breaking of taboos and stigma around menstruation. And the free choice to handle your period however makes the most sense to you.
No one should be held back by their period. Everyone deserves the chance to live life as they choose and to their full potential - with dignity and equality.
Ruby Cup has been fighting against period poverty and stigma since our launch in 2011. Every purchase of a Ruby Cup gives another person who menstruates the freedom to experience a dignified period by having access to safe menstrual products and education. Buy a Ruby Cup now and help champion period dignity.
Period poverty affects period dignity
Period poverty is understood as, but not limited to, the lack of access to safe menstrual products and proper water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure. It's also the lack of knowledge surrounding menstruation. We calculated the average cost of period products in different countries and found that when compared to the average GDP, people in low-income countries actually spend a greater percentage of what they make per month on safe menstrual products than those in middle or high-income countries.
When people can't afford safe menstrual products, it affects their mental wellbeing as well as their physical health. Opting for rags that aren't properly washed, using mud, or using a product for longer than advised can cause adverse health effects including infections and in extreme cases Toxic Shock Syndrome.
Period poverty also affects gender inequality. Plan UK's report found that 20% of girls in India leave school after getting their first period, and 70% of girls in Malawi miss between 1 and 3 days of school due to their period. Absenteeism from school affects young people's performance in school and creates a cycle in which girls continue to drop out of school and work in low-level jobs.
Period poverty doesn't just affect developing countries, it can affect those in higher-income countries too. In a US survey, for example, 67% of teens said they missed school because they didn't have the period products they needed. We also go into more detail about the situation in Scotland further down.
When those who have periods are taught the important lessons of what goes on in their bodies and are able to use safe and hygienic products and deal with menstruation in a safe way, we're a step closer to diminishing period poverty and inspiring a sense of pride.
People who have periods should feel proud of what their bodies are capable of doing on a monthly basis and the strength it requires. It's a miracle of nature!
Read more about period poverty and how we can combat it here.
Taking example from Scotland
In January 2021, Scotland's Period Products (Free Provision) bill became an act. With 121 votes for and 0 against, the act makes period products free for those who need them.
The aim of the bill is to ensure that all those who menstruate are able to access period products, at no cost, whenever they're required. Since the recession in 2008, Scotland has seen poverty rates rise, and the food banks saw an increased demand for essential items, including period products. The background also mentions the negative effect that period poverty has on mental health and well-being.
The bill also mentions education and the difficulty that many young people have in being able to afford period products, as well as their absence from school - 49% surveyed said they missed an entire day because of their period. There is also mention of the stigma surrounding menstruation as young people are often embarrassed or reluctant to talk about their period with teachers or other staff.
The bill works on an opt-in basis and anyone who requests access to period products in Scotland will be given access free of charge, regardless of age, gender, or income. Scotland is the first country to make this a national policy and some other countries are following suit. Recognizing the issues and inequality that surface from period poverty is the first step to filling this gap and moving towards period dignity.
British retailer Boots works to promote period dignity
Stories in British news blew up when retailer Boots decided to rename one of their essential aisles. Beauty Director at Boots Jaime Kerruish said "when it comes to periods, we know retailers can play an important role in changing people’s perceptions, including the words we use to describe products." So what exactly did they change?
They decided to change the signage in Boots stores, removing words like "hygiene" and "sanitary" which imply that periods are dirty. They're now saying "Period Products" and they're saying it with pride. This is a great example of releasing the outdated stigma around periods and recognizing them as something completely natural and to be proud of.
Calling a period by its name
Boots changing the names of their period product aisles brings up another interesting point about period stigma and dignity. How many names can you think of to talk about periods? Aunt Flo, Shark Week, Strawberry Week, Time of the Month, On the Rag, Leak Week, Code Red, Girl Flu. And there are probably more we don't know about in other languages and countries.
Why do we feel the need to give code names to a normal bodily function? Although it may seem cute to give a nickname to your period, it could also be preventing open conversations about menstruation from happening.
From a young age, people are taught to keep menstruation to themselves. They're not discussed openly with other family members or at school. In a US survey of teens, 83% said they hid period products on their way to the bathroom at school and 70% said they were especially self-conscious of periods in the school environment. Why are students still hiding their tampons up their sleeves when half of the population menstruates and it's completely natural?
The secretive way we treat menstruation increases the stigma around it. We should speak openly about periods and refrain from using code names. The more honest we are, the more we can normalize what's happening. Because periods are absolutely normal.
Including men and boys in the mix
Much of the stigma surrounding periods comes from a lack of knowledge. It's not only women who are confused or unprepared for their first period. In some countries, men are entirely excluded from the conversation. Opening up about menstruation helps normalize the topic and can even create allies and stronger connections between genders.
In 2018, the Indian film Pad Man was released in cinemas. Inspired by the true events of activist Arunachalam Muruganantham, Pad Man follows the main character, Lakshmi, who shortly after marrying discovers the unhygienic practices his new wife uses to deal with her periods. Lakshmi is determined to find a way to help and eventually designs a machine that makes affordable pads even for India's most poverty-stricken women. It may sound weird, but the film helped tackle "feminine issues" and break the stigma surrounding menstruation.
In Ghana, there was an initiative to include boys in the fight against period stigma. They designed workshops to "break down hurtful norms and harassment situations". After the campaign and workshops, boys no longer thought of menstruation as abnormal and were more aware of how their actions could be hurtful. They were taught to support women and girls during their menstruation.
The stigmas around periods actively feed the negative loop that affects people living in poverty. In some countries, women are excluded from daily activities or not allowed to touch certain objects when they’re menstruating. It’s these places that would benefit most from the support of men and boys.
The more education everyone has around periods, the better we're able to identify taboos, break stigmas and allow people who menstruate a dignified experience.
Opening the period conversation with the period emoji 🩸
When Plan International UK conducted a survey in 2017, they uncovered that young people still suffered from shame and stigma because of their periods. Their findings were astounding with facts like 40% of girls have had to use toilet paper because they couldn't afford safe period products, 48% of people between 14 and 21 were embarrassed by their periods and that almost 70% weren't allowed to go to the bathroom during class time. They also found that the stigma and shame were so strong that these young people weren't comfortable discussing their periods openly with friends or family.
They thought about this data and tried to come up with some interesting ideas. They noticed that among teens, emojis were quickly becoming a new, universal language. They designed a few "menstruation" emojis where over 50,000 people voted for their favorite. Unfortunately, their initial proposal was rejected, so they linked up with NHS Blood and Transplant to submit another blood emoji. In March 2019, their wishes were finally answered when Unicode announced their drop of blood emoji. The red drop of blood "may be used to talk about bleeding, injury, blood donation, or menstruation."
Menstrual health activists have applauded the emoji's addition saying that it could make it easier to talk about periods and eventually break the stigma around them. As Carmen Barlow at Plan UK said "a period emoji can help normalize periods in everyday conversation". Another step closer to period dignity!
How Ruby Cup fights to inspire period dignity
Ruby Cup materialized with the mission to battle period poverty and stigma and to offer a dignified way to deal with menstruation to those who don't always have safe access to period products. We also wanted to make a change in line with the UN's sustainable development goals.
Periods aren't just a "women's issue". Periods are a global and political issue that everyone should be fighting for. Offering safe period products to people who menstruate can help break the negative cycles many living in poverty face. It encourages people to continue with schooling and helps remove the shame and embarrassment that's felt when you can't afford or don't have access to safe products.
We believe that Ruby Cup offers the perfect solution to those in low and middle-income countries. Once they're comfortable using the cup, they'll have a reusable, zero-waste option to use for up to 10 years. In some countries where it's harder to deal with disposable menstrual products safely, the cup eliminates this difficulty, providing a planet-friendly and easy-to-use alternative.
To battle period poverty and cultivate dignity around menstruation, simply making donations isn't enough. Because of the steeper learning curve and the myths around losing your virginity with a menstrual cup, we know we have to educate the people who would be making use of the donations.
Our donation programs come with educational workshops where donees learn about their bodies, menstrual care and how to use their cups. They then have the option to take one home. We work closely with our partners to make sure that everyone in the community is on board so the chance of people using their cups is higher. They'll have the support of their community and mentors that can help them with any questions that come up.
Providing this type of education and support increases well-being and creates a path towards period dignity.
When you buy and donate a cup, it's not just the cup you're giving. You're also providing educational workshops and mentorship to those without access to safe menstrual products. Shop Ruby Cup now.