To mark Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28th May, celebrities and activists have united with people around the world to help break the silence around periods as charity WaterAid reveals that two in five people (40%) are embarrassed to talk about them, and three in five people who menstruate (59%) have worried whether their periods are normal.
Actors Amanda Mealing and Nadia Sawalha, journalists Yomi Adegoke and Freddy McConnell, and comedian Bec Hill have joined a global movement by posing with period bracelets to show there’s no shame in menstruation. The bracelets are used by organisations like WaterAid as a simple educational tool, with the five red beads representing the days of bleeding and the other beads denoting the rest of the cycle. They have now become a symbol that periods are nothing to hide.
WaterAid is using the activity to encourage open conversations to shine a light on the needs of women, girls and all who menstruate around the world. Many girls and women face restrictions while menstruating, while shame surrounding periods means people often do not get accurate information about menstrual health. A lack of decent toilets in schools also means girls often miss out on their education during their period.
WaterAid, which supports menstrual hygiene education around the world and helps provide water and sanitation facilities, surveyed 2,000 British adults to get their thoughts on openness about menstruation and the impact this has on managing their periods.
Two in five Brits said they are embarrassed to talk about periods, over half of those who menstruate (54%) say they try to conceal their period products on the way to the loo, and 76% of 18-24-year-olds admitted they have tried to hide the fact they are on their period from others.
While three in five people said they’ve worried if their cycle was ‘normal’, only 44% wouldn’t see their doctor if they had bleeding between periods, while half (50%) said they wouldn’t seek advice if their period lasted longer than seven days, and 57% wouldn’t see their doctor if their periods became erratic – despite these all potentially signalling problems.
Women seem prepared to put up with bad periods rather than seek help, with 60% saying they wouldn’t go to the doctor about heavy periods, while 65% wouldn’t seek help for extreme period pain, and 78% cope with bad PMT without support.
Amanda Mealing, actor and WaterAid Ambassador, said: “As long as we shroud periods in silence, the specific needs will be overlooked. In Ghana, I met girls who miss school for a few days every month because there are no toilets. No one should be held back from reaching their potential because of something as natural as a period. On visiting a school where WaterAid has worked, I saw the difference clean water, toilets and hygiene education can make, and was really inspired by students who are leading the way in challenging period stigma by educating their peers and families about menstruation, helping fill them with confidence. I felt many of us could learn a lot from them.”
Nadia Sawalha, actor and presenter, said: “Our bodies are the most remarkable bit of kit! This brilliant body of mine has enabled me to birth my daughters onto the kitchen floor, dance on table, and trek the Himalayas! Women are incredible – so why, oh why do all our natural processes, from periods to menopause and everything in-between, cause such embarrassment? Talking about periods should be as normal as having them to ensure the rights and needs of those who menstruate are heard and taken seriously. If we don’t menstruate there is no human race guys!!”
Freddy McConnell, journalist and ‘the dad who gave birth’, said: “Starting your period impacts everyone differently. It’s really important that all young people are empowered to understand and talk about what’s happening, including those who don’t have periods themselves. Trans boys are especially likely to find this experience tough and need specific support, free from assumption and judgement. Menstruation can feel like a crisis for trans and nonbinary youth but older trans people are here to say that it doesn’t have to be that way: we can talk about periods in ways that affirm and include everyone.”
Comedian Bec Hill, who made her own period bracelet out of wool, said:“I’ve always been jealous of those who get their periods like clockwork and I designed my own period bracelet to show that sometimes periods aren’t textbook. I’m supporting WaterAid’s campaign to get people talking about periods as it’s so important for us to know our normal and to ask for advice if we are unsure.”
WaterAid’s survey also found that since lockdown began in March 2020, 57% experienced changes to their menstrual cycle including changes to the duration, frequency and heaviness of their period.
The cost of period products remains an issue with 34% of those who menstruate expressing concerns over their affordability and 22% saying this was a concern during the pandemic, a problem felt by a third of 18 – 24-year-olds, and more than two in five Londoners. Over three in four Brits (77%) believed period products should be free at schools, colleges and universities, 60% wanted to see them free in workplaces with more than half agreeing they should be accessible free of charge in all in public buildings.
Therese Mahon from WaterAid said: “The world has made progress in breaking the silence around periods in recent years and we have seen greater attention to addressing the needs of women, girls and others who menstruate. However, we have not yet seen the scale of commitment required, and the pandemic could derail progress and halt or even reverse development around important gender issues, as we’re starting to see with UK aid cuts around programmes addressing water and sanitation, girls’ education and sexual and reproductive health. With the fate of many programmes hanging in the balance, WaterAid is calling for this moment to highlight the importance of everyone having clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene as essential for health and gender equality.”
To find out about WaterAid’s work on menstrual health, visit: https://www.wateraid.org/uk/the-crisis/hygiene/periods.