Stop treating periods like a dirty secret
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Emily Cotton on why it matters that menstrual health will soon be taught in schools.
When I was at school (which, yes, many people will say wasn’t that long ago), sex education began with little more than the basic mechanics of the male and female reproductive systems. At high school classes briefly covered puberty, contraception and STIs, but menstruation (something that was already or soon would be affecting literally half the class) was no where to be seen.
Looking back now, this meagre level of education around periods, sanitary products and cycle regularity – or irregularity for that matter – just wasn’t good enough. Which is why the news that, from 2020, it will be compulsory to teach menstrual health to pupils of all ages is so bloody (pardon the pun) important.
I don’t remember much about learning about periods for the first time; apart from when I was around eight or nine, finding tampons in the bathroom cupboard, asking my mum what they were and her saying she’d explain it to me when I was a few years older. When I did learn more though, I soon realised that menstrual cycles were something that women just didn’t talk about.
We tell fibs as to why we’re cancelling plans with friends or family, rather than honestly saying our cramps are so bad we can’t make it out of bed and we sneak our sanitary products out of our bags and hide them up our sleeves when we need to go to the toilet at work. And don’t get me started on what we’re willing to do if we’re caught short, when instead we could simply ask a colleague if they have a towel or tampon we could use.
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Girls grow up believing that being on their period is a dirty secret to be concealed; however this coming change to the sex and health curriculum is a step in the right direction to changing this.
We need to overcome the stigma attached to periods so that girls know what is and isn’t ‘normal’. Last year I met Emily Fazah, the creator of online community Moody Girl which raises awareness and offers support on PMS and PMDD. When I asked her this week what breaking the taboo around periods could do for sufferers, she described the conservation as ‘imperative’, adding that “menstrual health should definitely be incorporated in the school curriculum.”
As a teenager suffering with severe PMS it took Emily over 10 years to understand her premenstrual condition, which left her feeling isolated and alone in school. “Had there been an open dialogue and dedicated menstrual health lessons,” she says, “all of those years of feeling isolated could have been prevented.”
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Understanding menstruation and how it affects the lives of so many won’t cramp your style. As well as the physical and mental impacts of our cycles, periods can be detrimental to women and girls financially too. Access to sanitary products is probably something many of us take for granted, but in reality period poverty is something that an estimated one third of people within the UK experience. And while we can’t solve this problem solely by talking, open conversations about our time of the month could make it easier for females in this situation to ask for help.
If you’re willing to break the period taboo and help spread the word about period poverty, this year as part of International Women’s Day, Ipswich Labour Women’s Forum is organising a collection of sanitary products and toiletries in four different locations across the town. All items collected will be passed onto local organisations such as FIND, The Lighthouse Project and also to local schools. More information and a list of collection points can be found on the IWD 2019 Sanitary and Toiletries Collection event page on Facebook.