On Thursday, I found myself in a classroom in the basement of the College of Arts and Sciences, waiting to listen to Nadya Okamoto, a Harvard freshman, give a talk about tampons. Menstruation is a taboo topic, even on a progressive campus like Boston University, but BU’s new chapter of HeForShe, an organization dedicated to the gender equality movement, was quite proud to host Okamoto, and for good reason. Okamoto told her story of how she was inspired to begin Camions of Care and what exactly her organization does to help impoverished people better embrace menstrual cycles.
Camions of Care is an organization that strives to ease the burden that having a period can be through “advocacy, education, and service,” according to its website. Okamoto started Camions of Care after she experienced homelessness — or as she refers to it, her “time of transition” — and realized how physically and emotionally debilitating having a period can be for those without the means to buy menstrual
products. In her Thursday TED Talk at BU, Okamoto spoke about the need to change the dialogue around periods, the tampon tax and the social exclusion young girls in developing countries face because of their periods. Though these are all topics that deserve greater attention, they are not being talked about at the appropriate scale to make changes to politics and social structure, or at least not yet. Camions of Care also distributes menstrual hygiene products to disadvantaged persons who cannot afford to buy them, a simple act that positively impacts the emotional state and future of those who are already at a financial disadvantage.
The negative stigma surrounding menstrual cycles is apparent in the way we talk about periods and in the lack of dialogue about periods. Women and men rarely talk about periods, especially not with each other, even though menstruation is something that all women go through. Furthermore, the “feminine” part of feminine hygiene and care excludes people who do not identify as women. Women transitioning to a male gender have to deal with their menstrual cycle as well, and the discrimination that the transgender community faces does not need to be augmented by the stigma surrounding menstrual cycles.
Girls’ education and reproductive health in third-world countries are hugely impacted by the lack of knowledge and stigma surrounding periods. Girls miss school and even drop out of school altogether because they do not have menstrual hygiene products or even the knowledge of what menstruation is and how to care for oneself. Social exclusion ranges in severity from being considered contaminated and impure, to being banned from using water fountains during their periods and being forced to stay in separate huts.
HeforShe has chapters at universities across the nation. BU’s is new but is already making strides in the BU community through events and social media outreach. I’d encourage you to join HeforShe on social media or by attending meetings to further promote gender equality. Being unafraid to have conversations that might feel uncomfortable is a simple act that helps to chip away at the taboo around periods.