By Inês Mendonça
The way we treat male and female sexuality is different. We encourage men to be sexual beings, but shame women when they own their sexuality. We laugh at men's bodily functions, make jokes about erections, but when it comes to women's bodily functions, we surround them in shame and taboo and create a culture of secrecy that leaves women feeling the need to hide tampons up their sleeves or disguise pads in their shopping carts. Condoms are being hand out in schools and health centres, but tampons are considered non-essential, luxury items. Despite the importance of young people having access to not only a method of contraception, but a way to protect themselves against STD's, sex can be avoided - menstruation can't.
So, why is female sexuality treated in such a "hush-hush" way? If female bodies aren't being used for consumption, are they not deemed as acceptable? Are female bodies only meant to be celebrated when they're being sexualised and set up for male pleasure? Or can women be open and proud of their bodies, even when we're talking about the non-glamorous aspects of them? Why can't a completely normal bodily function, one that aids in the creation of life, one that most women born with a uterus deal with, be celebrated in the same way? Why can't we teach young women, and men, that your period is normal, natural and should be seen as such? Women have the right to feel comfortable with their bodies and everything that is natural to them. However, through the very scientific method of Instagram Polls, I realised that most women in my timeline felt ashamed when they got their periods or at some point from that moment forward. I believe that a part of it comes from the stigma that surrounds menstruation and most of the women I spoke to said that they feel schools are not doing enough to educate young people on it. The lack of dialogue on women's health also plays a part in deepening period poverty. Young girls are ashamed to speak on this issue, so why would they reach when they're not able to afford sanitary products? And, more importantly, why are we making it so difficult for young women to access these products?
Unfortunately, most countries tax sanitary products quite heavily, with women in the UK having to spend nearly 300£ per year or 15£ per month on feminine hygiene goods alone. 15£ could be the difference between paying rent, putting food on the table or paying bills for families with low-incomes, so that means a big percentage of young women have to go without products that make a natural occurrence easier and more comfortable to deal with. What is known as the tampon tax is a value-added tax added to products that not considered basic necessities. However, since periods cannot be avoided, the tampon tax shouldn't exist. Instead, young women are being forced to use socks, t-shirt sleeves or tissue to deal with menstrual flow.
All the women I have spoken to agree: more should be done to educate young people on the female body and how it works. We need to destigmatize menstruation and that conversation needs to start at a school level so we can send out prepared young adults into the world, young adults who are not ashamed and who will not shame women for what their bodies do naturally. We also need to understand the struggles that some women go through to access sanitary products and go through their periods comfortably. That's why we need projects like "Free Periods" to politicize, rally and demand action. Their protest is just around the corner - please be a part of it in any way you can. For young women in the UK and young women everywhere.