Women and the Monstrous Menstruation Cycle
At the ripe age of 12, I learnt the most critical information a woman should know when menstruating: women are impure and do not receive communion. However, unlike my peers who had mothers who took the time to explain, educate, and inform – I was indirectly shamed and inundated with guilt for not being good enough to receive communion on Sunday mornings. I had never considered that this experience would amount to anything more than religious bureaucracy, yet I now understand the depth of the statement and the damage it inflicts.
Low self-esteem, low self-confidence, submissiveness, lack of self-respect, and more are among the effects of being told from a young age that your gender impedes your quality of life. Unfortunately, what resulted from my mother’s words continued to assume the worst of myself and my decisions. It was until I started talking to my peers when I realized something was missing. There was more to being a woman than accepting blame and submitting to the dominant ideology.
Isolation is a significant outcome of period misinformation and lack of resources. Rather than going to work, school, or community and social events, women are forced to isolate themselves due to a lack of menstrual products or knowledge of managing menstruation. In addition, community initiatives and organizations pursuing equality in products provided to women often fall short of concrete policy.
Thankfully, middle and high schools provided comprehensive education on developing youth and allowed me to better understand the divergent perspectives before me. Although destigmatizing menstruation can only go so far in a classroom of teenagers, municipalities have an exceptional opportunity to tackle this barrier. From advocacy beginning in late 2017, Edmonton will provide menstrual products in all city-owned washrooms starting April 9, 2021. Despite grassroots organizations like No Woman Without and All Cycles advocating for increased availability of menstrual products to low-income and houseless residents, the city took five years to make the decision.
Lacking from the conversation of menstruation is political will, which some can argue is far from the point. Individuals can only do so much concerning their community. Tackling issues directly related to menstruation is not a municipal priority or something cities are eager to address. Much of municipal action has only taken place recently, such as in Edmonton and Coquitlam. Women who are houseless or low-income experience obtaining menstrual products differently, and as a result, policy needs to address this inequality.
As Port Coquitlam watched its neighbour secure annual funding for menstruation products in city-owned buildings, Port Coquitlam sought Edmonton politicians in a bid to nationalize the policy. Addressing period poverty not only addresses women’s unequal access to menstrual products but includes women’s access to the workforce and education. Period poverty, as well as lack of foundational menstruation knowledge, is an isolating factor. Missing school, work, and social events are among the most common experiences of women who struggle to receive menstrual products. City policy and outreach addresses this issue and allows for the equal usage of products.
In fall 2019, Dr. Charles Best Secondary School students first proposed the initiative to the City of Coquitlam, which adopted the proposal and effect a pilot project. At first, the students were worried about councillors perceiving them as “just a bunch of teenagers,” which is a simple way to dismiss activism and youth engagement. However, this initiative demonstrated that youth engagement and community organizing are essential to generative policy change. In this sense, municipalities have a critical role in hearing proposals and furthering causes that serve to benefit vulnerable residents.
Among Canada’s diverse city demographics, the assumption that all cultures and social groups educate and inform about menstruation is idealistic. However, cultures influenced by religious traditions and ideology continue to produce stigmatizing rhetoric concerning menstruation. As a result, policies that target period poverty indirectly target women who are uninformed or unable to secure menstrual products. In any respect, transitioning menstrual products to toilet paper status will be a challenge – community and municipal initiatives serve to benefit and protect women who suffer in silence. Edmonton is home to countless community groups and organizations that bring period poverty to light and allow for numerous options in products. Women are owed, at minimum, the luxury of accessible menstrual products in their communities. With municipalities addressing the issue through policy and community partnerships, momentum can continue, and Canada can see national policy changes in the coming years.
Monica Bassili writes a weekly column for www.ladiescorner.ca