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Recognizing Menstrual Hygiene Day 

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Screen Shot 2023 05 31 at 8.35.49 AM Recognizing Menstrual Hygiene Day 

Sunday, May 28, was Menstrual Hygiene Day. The purpose of this global day of action is to raise awareness about menstruation and barriers to menstrual products and education. In doing so, Menstrual Hygiene Day helps to break the taboo and stigma of menstruation.

This is more important than ever. After all, approximately half the population menstruates for about 40 years of their lives. And stigma and lack of services abound. Take a look at these facts from just the United States:

  • Almost 17 million people who menstruate live in poverty and are unable to afford menstrual products. In fact, half of them have to choose between food or menstrual products
  • Taxes on menstrual products ranged from 4.7 percent to 10 percent in 2019.

All of these inequalities contribute to period poverty, which is a public health crisis. In fact, one in five girls in the United States misses school due to insufficient menstrual products. Additionally, menstrual products may be ineligible for purchase on food stamps or SNAP benefits. That means that people may supplement such products with paper towels, rags or reuse pads — increasing their risk of infections, skin irritation and vaginal itching.

The stigma surrounding menstruation is prevalent. Referring to menstruation as “that time of the month,” “the monthly curse” or “Aunt Flo,” we are socialized into believing that menstruation is something shameful that should be hidden. This can be attributed to religion, since major religions across the world have texts and rituals that dictate what women can and cannot do when they menstruate. One example is from Leviticus 15:18-33, which says: “Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her separation. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the evening.” Essentially, women are seen as unclean until they are purified by a priest or a rabbi on the eighth day of menstruation.

We are also seeing this stigmatization in legislation across the United States. Shockingly, Florida now bans some girls from talking about their periods in elementary schools. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Stan McClain, outrageously affirmed that girls who start their period in fourth or fifth grade would be forbidden from speaking about it in public schools.

Earlier this year, the Florida High School Athletic Association intended to include mandatory questions about a student’s menstrual history and cycles, such as when they first had a menstrual period and how many periods that they have had in the last 12 months. This would have been problematic on many levels. It may have been used to prosecute teens who have had abortions or to stigmatize transgender students. And this is in addition to the fact that menstrual cycles vary for every person, especially teens, and filling out a form declaring one’s menstrual status is a violation of privacy.

Thankfully, legislation has been introduced that would repeal the taxes on menstrual products. Currently 23 states and Washington, D.C., have exempted period products from taxation. And representatives in South Carolina and Texas are acting to remove taxes. The city of Boulder, Colo., eliminated taxes on menstrual products in January. However, at least half of the states still tax period products at the standard rate. This includes Freedom From Religion Foundation’s home state of Wisconsin. You can see how your state fares here.

While the recent tax removal measures are moving in the right direction, there is still much to do. Reducing stigma is very important, especially during the ongoing reproductive health crisis. As secular voices, we have a unique opportunity to destigmatize menstrual health and support comprehensive reproductive health care for all. Learn more about how you can get involved at the Menstrual Hygiene Day website.

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