I’ve always thought words are important.Saying you’re fine when you’re not; saying no when you mean yes; saying yes when you mean no – using the wrong word can be as simple as missing out on something you need or want, or as risky as finding yourself in a dangerous situation.
It’s because words matter that I strongly believe World Menstrual Hygiene Day should be changed to World Menstrual Health Day.
The objective of this global movement is phenomenally important. Millions of people around the world are stigmatised, excluded and discriminated against simply because they menstruate.
This is unacceptable.
Raising awareness, education and advocacy are the only way to combat discrimination so that people who menstruate can fully and equally participate in everyday life. This is about more than periods; it’s about the health and wellbeing of every individual who menstruates and the challenges they may face due to taboos and stigma about a natural bodily function.
Hygiene and health aren’t interchangeable in this context. If anything, they bias the perception of the movement for those who are ignorant about menstruation.
The word hygiene can be oversimplified to imply cleanliness vs dirtiness, and periods already have a stigma around them without continuing to perpetuate the myth that they are unsanitary.
I personally dislike the name 'sanitary pads' for the same reason – periods are not unsanitary, they're normal!
Someone who isn’t informed about periods might be so for lots of reasons. For example, cultural protocols often exclude people who don’t menstruate from conversations about menstruation, and not all family or education environments discuss menses openly.
Plus, people who don’t have a menstruating person in their life may never be exposed to the pre-menstrual symptoms that some of us experience at ‘that time of the month’: mood swings; bloating; fatigue; headaches; chocolate binges where you stuff your face for three days as you wear your favourite fluffy blue pyjamas with clouds printed on them while watching romcoms repeatedly and crying at the happy endings...
Okay, admittedly, that last one might just be me, but my point is - you don’t know what you don’t know.
A movement about menstrual hygiene isn’t likely to be the place a person who doesn’t menstruate would go to get informed about periods, in my opinion. Actually, even a person who does menstruate might give it a miss.
That’s because menstrual health is about more than blood and the things we associate with it, such as odour, leakage, colour or texture. Talking about blood in relation to periods is often where the perception of hygiene arises. I sometimes experience no symptoms at all before my period, including occasionally not menstruating, whilst other times I tick the box for every symptom there is.
I don’t suffer from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), however sometimes I am really emotional in the lead up to my period, to the point that I have cancelled my plans and literally curled up on the couch alternating between tears and heavy sleep for a day.
Every person who menstruates is different and ensuring I am taking care of my emotional and mental health, which is just as important as my physical health, is a privilege I don’t take for granted. The fact that some people who menstruate are physically debilitated by intense pain, or have PMDD, yet may be shamed or declined leave based on their inability to work in that condition outrages me.
People who menstruate can be prevented from getting an education and earning an income due to ignorance, bias and stigma around periods. Some have significant challenges in accessing menstrual products and education about menstruation. Some even struggle with period-friendly sanitation facilities – remember never to flush pads and tampons, our waterways will thank you!
Much like mental health can be misunderstood by the uninformed due to its (largely) invisibility, period-related issues are all too frequently dismissed as being a problem for only a certain segment of the population.
Changing the day to World Menstrual Health Day opens up the opportunity for frank conversations around how menstruation effects the entire population. And that can only be a good thing.
Explore our database of everyone working towards menstrual equality in Australia.
Within this article, we may use the terms she, her, woman, girl or daughter. We understand that not all people with uteruses who are assigned female at birth menstruate, and not everyone who menstruates identifies as a female, girl or woman. For more information on this, please see our article about the importance of gender inclusivity when discussing periods and menstruation.