From curdling mayonnaise to making men bald, sickening babies or killing flowers with a touch, myths about women’s ‘dos and don’ts’ while menstruating exist the world over.
Thankfully, a topic that for thousands of years has been considered taboo is now becoming more and more acceptable, to the extent that today – 28 May – we are recognising world Menstrual Hygiene Day.
Who would have thought that so many mixed feelings and messages exist about what is a natural and beautiful part of being a woman?
My amazing mum, who this month turned 70, has only recently become comfortable talking about menstruation. In contrast, the young men in my life (nephew and stepson in their mid-20’s) are totally at ease talking about periods. If you asked either of them to stop at a shop on their way over to buy pads or tampons, their only question would be “which brand”. Yet another girlfriend is yet to have the conversation with her daughter because it makes her feel awkward.
What does it mean for adolescent girls if their mothers still feel such shame about purchasing sanitary products, let alone discussing the topic or preparing them for this natural biological function?
And then I think about the gorgeous traditional Aboriginal women I work with who live in deep remote communities. These women and girls won’t go into their local store, the only store in community, to buy sanitary products because they don’t want people “knowing their business” or there might be a man serving who could be related to them. They would rather manage their period by staying indoors, relying on toilet paper and showers. I was shocked to learn that in extreme cases, women choose to ‘go bush’ – digging a hole and sitting over it with their skirts spread in order to totally avoid contact with community members. This, in Australia in the 21st century…
While I do like the idea of not having to cook while menstruating, this is not because of any beliefs about women being ‘dirty’ while bleeding but because women should be celebrated and honoured for the potential life they have the ability to nurture. I’m not sure how practical this is in today’s busy households but ladies, if you can get away with putting your feet up, why not?
In seriousness though, today I want to acknowledge all the amazing women and men in Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, the Northern Territory and Papua New Guinea who have joined the Moon Sick Care Bag Project. You are making a huge difference to the lives of so many extremely disadvantaged women and adolescent girls living in isolated villages in PNG, by helping girls stay in school and women to continue participating in work or family life.
By providing a basic necessity and education about hygiene and reproductive health, we are also helping to diminish many of the cultural superstitions that are holding women and girls back and reinforcing gender-based discrimination. That’s why I am totally committed to seeing as many bags as possible delivered to Papua New Guinea, and so excited about the growth of the Moon Sick Care Bag movement.
So today, feel free to pick flowers, cuddle babies, make mayonnaise or rub a man’s head, or even just start a conversation about periods – and here’s to a very happy Menstrual Hygiene Day!
© Yolonde Entsch 2020