Regardless of the clear health benefits of breastfeeding, women all over the world still face judgment and other challenges, when all they want to do is just feed their babies. And, it is a well-known fact that from the U.S. to China, menstrual stigma is real even today.
On the bright side, times are changing. Miley Cyrus just dropped the video for her latest single ‘Mother’s Daughter’ which features women breastfeeding their babies. And, a film about periods made in India won an Oscar this year. I never thought I would use the words “India” “Periods” and “Oscar” in the same sentence!
Period. (pun intended)
We are living in a ‘woke’ era. Today, being different is cool, and ideas like ‘feminism’ and ‘gender equality’ exist. Pop culture is also evolving with time. It is said that cinema and media are the representation of society while it is also true that cinema and media set trends for society. It works both ways and right now is the best time to watch them mirror each other.
Half Of The World Is Way Ahead And It Is Time For The Rest Of Us To Catch Up
From Gap’s breastfeeding commercial last year to viral campaigns like #HappyToBleed and #PeriodsAreNotAnInsult- the battles are being fought around the world. In the US, photographers like Gina Brocker are fighting the cause for breastfeeding by capturing women breastfeeding everywhere- bathrooms, cars, supermarkets and hospital beds to name a few.
Femtech or Female Technology is projected to be a $50 billion industry by 2025 what with the launch of multiple period tracking apps and gadgets related to women health and hygiene.
In India, social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham invented the low-cost sanitary pad-making machine, inspiring the blockbuster hit movie Pad Man last year.
During the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui announced that she was on her period when she swam breaking down a major misconception about menstruation. Many in China took to social media to share the fact that they didn’t know someone could swim while menstruating. This started a much-needed dialogue around the topic.
Last year, when South Korean entrepreneur Gina Park launched her Eve Cup (white silicone cups designed to collect menstrual fluid), she received 10 million won (US$ 8,800) worth of orders in the first 30 minutes of the listing.
Real Issues And The Rest Of Us
Despite everything that is being done, we still have a long way to go. Incidents of stigmatising these issues are still common across all parts of the world. Last year, Kenyans expressed outrage on social media after a woman was allegedly humiliated and kicked out of a popular restaurant in Nairobi for breastfeeding her baby. According to reports, 85% of British moms say that they cannot breastfeed in public due to the stigma around it. In the US, only 25 per cent of babies are exclusively breastfed at six months of age.
The statistics don’t get better when it comes to period taboos and its consequences either. In the UK alone, last year it was estimated that over 137,000 girls miss school each year because of a lack of access to sanitary products. In India, a sanitary pad can cost as low as eight cents. Despite that, until two years ago, more than 85 per cent of women were using makeshift unhygienic menstrual products made out of hay, rags and dried leaves!
Even today, women are encouraged to use expressions like ‘Auntie Flo‘ or ‘time of the month’ when talking about their periods. In fact, if we were to sit and list down all the different names that they have so women don’t say the word “period”, it can be an altogether a different article- just a listicle of names for periods that they have around the world!
It is actually mundane and boring, dare I say “out-of-fashion” to stigmatise these issues. This is not 1991 and women are done being shushed whenever they open their mouths to speak. The taboo-ism of issues like breastfeeding and periods is more than just being able to have an open conversation. It affects the health of women and children around the world. It affects physical well-being and can also cause mental trauma. I think it is high time that we move on and normalize the dialogue around these topics. We need to work towards creating awareness around these issues so women can live freely in a safer, cleaner and healthier world.