don’t have a period, man

That time of the month.

Surfing the crimson tide.

PMS.

Menstruation.

Period.

Holy hell, who the f*** did I piss off?!

These are just some of the ways that society, including myself, refers to that really awesome time, once a month, that affects almost every woman on the planet.

Yes, I am bleeding from my vagina. Some women are ‘lucky’ and only have to deal with this ‘affliction’ for a few days. Some women have some really bad juju, and can bleed for weeks. According to medical research (no, I have no idea where I read it as it was a while ago) us women only lose 1-2 teaspoons (or maybe it was tablespoons, I forget) of actual viable, good blood during our period. The rest of it is our uterus’s throwing the mother of all tantrums, and quite literally throwing its toys out of the proverbial cot. And if you’re really lucky, for the first day or so, you look like you’re birthing the spawn of Satan, or at least 25 million of them. Blood clots. So appetising. And also effing scary, especially at 02h00 in the morning, when you thought you only needed to wee. Or better yet, when you’re in the bath, and this red blob catches your eye and you stare with wide-eyed horror, knowing that that came out of you. Whaaaaaat?! And the cramps? And the bloating? And the fact that not only do I want to eat every chocolate I can lay my hands on, I also snap at my husband for absolutely no good reason, and then give him the silent treatment because he dared to ask wtf he had done wrong.

What’s even scarier is the stigma attached to a menstruating woman. Some cultures do not even allow these women into the house during this time. This is a natural thing, and before I had my tubes tied, my ability to breathe a huge sigh of relief that there weren’t anymore “mini-me’s” on the way. Believe me, a LOT of women use the start of their period as a time to party, because they can!

What’s even more awful is how many women (I’m only talking about in South Africa now), miss work and school because of their period. So many young ladies are forced to use leaves, old rags, even old sanitary towels when they menstruate. In our country, you can find free condoms pretty much everywhere; at clinics, robots, shopping centers, yet feminine hygiene products are nowhere to be found. Oh they can be found in abundance at the shops, with a nice little price tag on them to boot. I am not against the issuing of free condoms; I myself have taken a few from work as seriously, the mess is just not worth it, especially at 00h15, but why are feminine hygiene products not also available? Rape and assault aside, a person (male or female) has the choice to abstain from sexual intercourse; a woman’s monthly cycle is going to happen. She is going to bleed. Whilst I do not expect a tampon to be included in this debate, sanitary pads should be made freely available, just as condoms are. School girls are missing out on their education; approximately 3.7 million school age girls (11-13) are allegedly missing school every month due to this issue. Whilst this is a difficult figure to verify as schools record just that a pupil was absent, not the reason why, almost 78% of these girls live in the lower LSM (living standards measure) bracket. What this essentially means is that these families barely have enough money for food and clothes and other basic necessities; feminine hygiene products are not on their list of monthly essentials. They’re deemed a luxury.

I just do not understand how a pad can be deemed a luxury. What, do people think it’s really glamorous to have a period? Yes, I know and appreciate that as women, we have the ability to co-create life, and sustain that life for 9 months. A male body cannot do that, but this cannot and must not detract from the real issue here. Feminine hygiene should be a basic right to all females.

A month or so ago I was in the ladies bathroom at work, and whilst in the one stall another woman entered. I heard her stop at the paper hand towel dispenser, and dispense paper towel. And she didn’t stop. I don’t even know how many times I heard that handle go down, and it annoyed me. Why was she taking so much paper towel? That stuff isn’t cheap, and we’re always looking at ways to cut costs at work, so when I was done I took my time washing my hands, whilst I waited for her to exit the other stall. As she exited, another woman entered, and I saw that they were both contractors from the plant company that we’ve hired. I asked her quite abruptly why she took so much hand towel, and she blushed and put her head down. I asked her again, more forceful, and she replied

I’m bleeding and I don’t have any money for pads.

I felt my heart stop for a moment. My hard resolve melted and I said to her, shocked, “you don’t have any pads?” She just shook her head, embarrassed. She had nothing to be embarrassed about, I did. I went to my desk and offered her whatever I had. She was so grateful, so relieved, so happy. She was basically going from site to site, and before she could actually work had to go into the ladies bathroom to refresh the paper towel between her legs. Now I’ve used paper towel before, I think most women have. But I’ve only used it as a quick fix, at the shops just to ‘stem the tide’ whilst I run in to buy some tampons. At home if I need to find where I put my box, at work when it just happens and I need to go back to my desk for a tampon or pad. But I’ve never had to go my whole period using just paper towel. Or leaves. Or rags. Or newspaper. I’ve always had the ‘luxury’ of having feminine hygiene products readily available to me.

Something about my interaction with this lady, this lady who was in a sense degraded and humiliated by something that happens naturally to her body every month, awoke a fire within me. I know that there are a few initiatives that have sprung up in recent years around feminine hygiene products, but I decided to start my own thing. And all I’ve received is positive feedback. I’ve decided to focus on the ladies in my workplace, as we have a lot of employees who are factory based, and I shudder to think how many of them miss work every month due to their period. How many of them simply don’t have the money for a pack of pads.

With my mom, we’ve purchased in total 12 packs of pads over the past month, which I’ve placed in the admin bathrooms, just to see how they would be received. The first 2 packs of pads took about 3 weeks to be used; the second 2 packs are finished. I have the other 8 packs in my desk, and I distribute them when necessary. I myself have gone down to our onsite clinic in an ’emergency’ situation, only to find that they don’t keep feminine hygiene products. They have condoms; oh boy do they have condoms everywhere. But not a single tampon or pad.

This is not something that I expect a resolution to overnight. There is still so much negativity and ‘hush hush’ around discussing menstruation, and even I felt the same. But I think that the world that we’re living in has definitely changed in recent times, simply because it’s been forced to. Women bleed from their lady parts, fact. Women and young girls are missing work and school because of this, fact. Can I do something about this?

Yes.

Can you do something about this?

Yes.

By the end of the year I am hoping to have a feminine hygiene initiative active at my factory. I’m still not 100% sure as to how to go about it all, whether or not to just leave the pads out for the women to help themselves or to have like maybe a registration and then issue them out every month, but it will happen. Whilst I am not wealthy I have never had to go through what some of the women in South Africa go through on a monthly basis. A period is not dirty. But it can lead to serious health complications and illnesses, when not taken care of correctly. By women using items beside feminine hygiene products when they have their period, they are putting themselves at such a medical risk for infections, but what other choice do they have.

In 2011, President Jacob Zuma promised that government would provide sanitary pads to impoverished women and girls, a promise he has made again and again, but has never delivered on. But that’s ok. Well not really, but it just fuels the fire within me.

Oh, BTW. I’ve written this post whilst on my period, having to stop 3 times to run to the bathroom to ‘change supplies’ as this month, my uterus really IS pissed off with me. Just FYI, maybe TMI but that’s LIFE.

G

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