Conversations around menstruation have been a bit of a taboo topic for a while now but they shouldn’t be and days like Menstrual Hygiene Day (which is today) are just what is needed normalise conversation around periods.
DRUM spoke to three women to hear about their experiences with menstruation and what they wish they knew when they were younger.
The best experience I’ve had was before I had my period, as a girl you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t wait to get my period’ and I remember the first time I realised I first had my period. I was very happy because it meant I’m growing, and a lot of my friends had already started with theirs. In class I remember watching this Always ad on TV that used to play and when we stood up we used to sing that ‘I check, check, check’ song. You remember such little moments and it creates memories for you as a young girl.
As a girl, when you first get your period, your parents don’t really take you through everything. They just sit you down, well that’s what my mom did to me, and are like ‘Now that you’ve had your period, you need to stay away from boys’ but they don’t really tell you about the changes that are going to happen. For some people, it’s serious changes. You only really find out more when you’re talking to your friends. I would like our parents to talk more about the different changes that can happen and their own experiences.
Last month, I had a lump by my left boob and obviously as a woman when you feel or hear about a lump, it’s always something serious. Only to find out that it happens when some women get their period; it might not be something that happens every month, but it may be something that happens once in your lifetime experience. I really wish that I knew that earlier.
I hate how little girls are taught to feel ‘dirty’ because of their period. They are taught that they should be ashamed or there’s something wrong with them when they are bleeding. It goes far beyond menstruation being sacred. It has now escalated to it being something that is shameful. People are ignorant to the fact that menstruation is one of the most beautiful natural processes in a woman’s body. I would like to see change in the stigma around menstruation; I would like more people to be talking about it and acknowledging that it’s there, and it’s not going to change.
I wish I knew that sometimes I didn’t have to overdo it as much as I did because I got so paranoid. I would feel like I’m unclean all the time and having to shower again and again. I felt like people around me could feel that I was on my period. What I know now is that personal hygiene is important!
My worst experience has to be from a couple of months after my first period, I was 10. I had a netball match and my flow was very heavy and my period lasted for 10 days. I was a child and I had so much energy. I completely forgot that something “irregular” was happening to my body. I went about my day up until a boy, a classmate of mine, said to me, ‘Oh, did you fall because you’re bleeding.’ I knew what was happening but I didn’t think it would be that bad.
One of my best experiences with menstruation was discovering menstrual cups and learning how to fit them properly. They have really made my cycle less of a dread. I think they are less of a mess and more friendly to the environment. My worst experience was when I got on contraceptives and I bled heavily for two weeks. I went to get checked and regulated but I was feeling so weak, I didn’t enjoy those days.
For the longest time I thought my period was irregular so I wish I would have learnt to calculate or pay attention earlier. I wish I had explored sanitary towels more and not perceive my period as something disgusting. I’d like us to educate girls about menstruation from a young age and teach them how to take care of themselves; to be more open about it even when speaking to those that don’t experience it. We learn to and educate that way. I hope we can love ourselves through it and learn to be kinder especially when experiencing period pains. I wish sanitary towels were free.
South Africa is still struggling with making sanitary pads free and in 2018, the government was said to launch their projects to provide free sanitary pads. Not that much progress has been made and, in the meantime, many South Africans have taken it upon themselves to start NPOs and NGOs that will provide those who aren’t able to afford sanitary pads for free.
An NPO by the name of ‘LadyBug Foundation’ which is based in Johannesburg is doing exactly that. The NPO consists of seven members who all have the same goal.
“We are providing basic community needs. We want to provide the girl child with an option to have access to sanitary products. Our hashtag is #freetheperiod. We are still in our infancy stage, but we have had many milestones.
“We are already aware of the impact the period has on females and how challenging it can be for those in poor and rural communities. Girls missing school is something we would like to bring to an end. Our aim is to provide free sanitary products nationwide. The change we would like to see would be breaking the stigma surrounding the female and periods. It’s still a taboo in 2020 and we would like to educate those in our communities and around us,” Palesa Mabitsela, one of the founding members, said.