There’s a young girl out there, right now, who has gotten her first period. For most women, menstruating for the first time is a memory that never really leaves us – it’s a time filled with confusion, discomfort and unfortunately, embarrassment.Menstruation is a shared experience between most women around the world, from as young as age 11 to menopause well into their 50s. That’s over 40 years with the same monthly cycle, cravings and pain – but the silence on the subject is so deafening you’d think periods never existed.The taboo culture of periods is observed around the world in many different ways: In England, nearly half of a surveyed population of girls and young women confessed that they were embarrassed by their periods – not just to talk about it, but actually embarrassed of menstruation. In North America, one in eight women living below the poverty line struggle to access adequate hygiene products. In areas of Nepal, a menstruating woman is banished to a clay hut in the wilderness until her period is over, which can sometimes last longer than seven days.For these reasons amongst many more, conversation is important. It was recently announced that a period emoji will be added to the universal emoji keyboard in March 2019 – a celebration for Plan International, after campaigning for this addition in several countries around the world. The news has been widely reported by the media, which naturally has attracted some critique about the effectiveness of the emoji in sparking awareness– how does a simple emoji fuel a worldwide conversation?
First, it is important to understand that the taboo culture surrounding menstruation is deeply rooted in the suppression of women’s sexuality. For the same reasons that a woman was (and in some cases, still is) expected to dress modestly or be married early on; in the same way that women today are shunned for practicing their sexual autonomy with as many partners as they like, the menstruation stigma points in the same direction: the unfathomable idea that women are sexually active beings with the capability to not only desire, but create life. While a majority of society today accepts and empowers women’s sexuality, this ingrained idea that periods are taboo is carved so deeply into the building blocks of our brains that our peers wince at even the word. And the only way to re-wire our brains is normalizing it through conversation. The period emoji will play a crucial role in normalizing the presence of menstruation in our day-to-day conversations and ultimately, challenge the negative connotations that come with– a starting point for the long process to de-stigmatization ahead. The conversation can’t afford to wait. Period poverty is a global development issue affecting millions of women who can’t afford basic sanitary items or don’t have a safe place to change menstrual products. Even in first world countries, women are forced to create false reasoning for missing work or school due to period pains, feed the gender equality gap.The conversation has already begun and from now on, each and every one of us will play a critical role in defeating period stigma. The period emoji is a great achievement for women everywhere. Next month, we will proudly share the blood droplet emoji that our collective voices created with friends, family and colleagues. Will you?