I still remember the awkward feeling, even 24 years later, of sitting in a health class during fifth grade, somewhat mortified of what I, as a young woman, could look forward to as I approached puberty. Fast forward in time, and what was once hushed tones of girls whispering about the arrival of “Aunt Flo,” or quietly asking for feminine hygiene products from one another has transformed into public displays of the very normal bodily function.
On August 7, Kiran Gandhi ran the 26.2 mile London Marathon sans a tampon or other feminine hygiene products in order to, “raise awareness about women who don’t have access to feminine products and to encourage women to not be ashamed of their periods. ”Just a few weeks prior to that Saint Hoax, a Middle Eastern artist released retouched images of Disney princesses with period stains on their clothes so as to “[imply] that could happen to any female and it’s a natural process.”
I know that there is a real need for education regarding the lack of accessibility that girls and women in some parts of the world have to feminine hygiene products, but I’m just not sure this is the right way to go about it.
I commend entrepreneurs who are trying to make things better for teenage girls in underdeveloped countries that struggle with consistent school attendance due to menstruation and the stigma associated with it in their communities.
Twin sisters Radha and Miki Agrawal launched THINX in an effort to provide an undergarment that would provide protection against embarrassing menstration leaks, with the wider appeal of being able to keep girls around the world in school after they found out that more than 100 million girls in the developing world were missing a week of school because of their periods and often resorting to using leaves or old rags.
This sort of thinking, to me, represents action that will really make a difference. Beyond the creation of the underwear, the sisters went a step further in their social mission by partnering with AFRIpads; for every purchase of a pair of THINX, funds are donated to the production of seven washable pads for girls in Uganda. The additional benefit? Job opportunities for local women making the pads.
I want my daughter to be empowered in the choices she makes related to her body and the changes she will experience within the next 10+ or so years as she transitions from a girl into a woman. However, I think action-based initiatives are far more compelling and offer a real tool for change versus a one-time public display that does not go beyond basic awareness. We as health communicators have an opportunity to create greater change by expanding on these one-time public displays aimed at awareness by turning simple conversation into real action that will affect the long-term.