4 ways you can fight period stigma

Periods are natural, painful, and expensive as hell. Americans spend more than $2 billion per year on menstrual products.

Nadya Okamoto is the founder and executive director of PERIOD, a youth-run nonprofit that celebrates periods and provides menstrual products to those in need. The idea for the organization came to her when she was 16 years old and homeless. Through conversations with other women experiencing homelessness, she learned about a widespread, unaddressed issue: period poverty, or the inability to afford menstrual products. 

Now 20 years old, Okamoto is one of the many young voices driving the Menstrual Movement, which she describes as the fight for the right to feel “clean, confident, and capable while on your period.”

Okamoto’s debut book Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement drops on Oct. 16, and as you might have guessed from the title, it explores every aspect of the movement, including the history of period stigma in the U.S., period poverty, and period policy. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to make change at the state and national levels. 

Whether you menstruate or not, here are four ways you can join the Menstrual Movement: 

1. Challenge the period stigma through conversations. 

More than 800 million girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 are menstruating on any given day. Yet, periods are still considered a taboo topic. The stigma surrounding periods result in poor health educationhealth issues, and low attendance rates in schools

A large part of Okamoto’s work is focused on challenging period stigma, and she says the first step is talking about periods in a “natural, unafraid way.”

“This is natural and normal and beautiful. Human life is made possible by menstruation,” Okamoto told Mashable. 

Whether you’re on Twitter or having an in-person conversation, talk about periods as naturally as you can. Ditch euphemisms like the “time of the month” and “Mother Nature,” and call it what it is: your period. You can try exploring social media platforms or apps where positive, taboo-free conversations about periods are the norm. That includes the period-tracking apps Flo and Eve, as well the Facebook group (There Will Be Blood Period Chat) hosted by the menstruation product company Natracare.  

2. Donate menstrual products. 

People who cannot afford to pay for menstrual products resort to using materials that can pose a threat to their health, like toilet paper, socks, rags, and brown paper bags. PERIODtries to help those in need with a “Period Pack,” which contains nine tampons and six pads. 

PERIOD’s donation page guarantees that just $2 can cover an entire menstrual cycle. Fifty percent of the funds go directly toward buying and delivering menstrual products, while the other 50 percent supports policy reform and PERIOD campus chapters. If you’d like to donate or learn about other ways to give, click here

Also consider donating to #NeverAlonePeriod, a campaign recently launched by the nonprofit Days for Girls in recognition of International Day of the Girl. The funds go toward menstrual products like washable pads and panties as well as menstrual health education and training. 

3. Support state legislation that ends the tampon tax. 

There are 36 states in the U.S. that still tax menstrual products based on the premise that they’re luxury items. Meanwhile, Viagra, which treats erectile dysfunction for men, is not taxed because it’s a prescription drug.  

PERIOD is mobilizing over 150 chapters around the country to change campus and local regulations. One objective is to make sure free menstrual products are supplied in bathrooms just like toilet paper is provided in school and public restrooms.

Okamoto argues that there’s no difference between toilet paper and menstrual supplies. 

“You would be so pissed if you went to the bathroom and there was no toilet paper or if it was kept away by quarters and you had to carry a quarter on you,” she said. 

According to the Associated Press, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania are among the states that do not tax menstrual products. If your state has the tampon tax, be on the lookout for legislation that could abolish it.

4. Use the term “menstruator.” 

Transgender men and non-binary people also get periods. To make sure this movement remains inclusive, follow Okamoto’s example and use the term “menstruator” when referring to a person who has a period. Also, spread the news about gender-inclusive menstrual hygiene companies, such as Aunt Flow and Pyramid Seven

As you’ll see in Okamoto’s book, the Menstrual Movement encompasses history, policies, and voices. There’s over 300 pages of information to process, but don’t feel overwhelmed. The takeaway is clear and simple: Periods are natural. Period stigma is not. 

So whether that means donating products or spreading awareness, join Okamoto and other activists in making period stigma a thing of the past. 

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