Empowering Women and Ending Period Stigma
In 1848, a group of five women, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, successfully organized the first Women's Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. It didn't just launch the women's suffrage movement but also brought to light the oppressed plight of many women worldwide. Some of the more critical issues discussed were economic disenfranchisement from the marital status, racism, and sexual violence.
Fast forward to January 20, 2021, a historic moment occurred: The world stood in awe as Kamala Harris became the first female vice president of the United States, shattering yet another layer of the thick glass ceiling that’s keeping women from reaching their full potential. Indeed, women have gained significant ground since the days of the Seneca Falls Convention in the 19th century—or have we? In this space, we'd like to clarify some of the challenges in the women's rights movement. More importantly, we want to determine what further steps to take towards empowering women and ending period stigma, one of the persistent prejudices distorting how the world perceives our worth.
Defining Women Empowerment
An article released by World Vision Australia defines women's empowerment as "promoting women's sense of self-worth, their ability to determine their own choices, and their right to influence social change for themselves and others."
Over time, testosterone-fueled marketing has continued to bombard us with this message: Women are inferior to men. Therefore, we've learned to relinquish positions of power and strength to our male counterparts, especially at the workplace. When it comes to career choices, females tend to gravitate towards "softer, more nurturing" roles such as pre-school and kindergarten teacher, childcare worker, secretary, administrative assistants, etc.
We're in no way diminishing the value of these jobs, which can be perfect for any individual depending on their interests and strengths— but gender should not be a critical factor in the equation. Instead, women should be able to decide what they want to become—and succeed—whether these be traditionally feminine posts or male-dominated professions. This can only happen if there are enabling mechanisms for women to fully participate in not just more but all sectors of society the way they see fit.
The State of Women Today
Significant inroads have indeed been made in advancing women's causes.
For instance, Kuwait has approved legislation on sexual harassment in the workplace. Egypt has also passed a similar bill protecting women from domestic abuse. The same country also enacted legislation that prohibits gender-discriminating credit policies. In central Africa, Gabon reformed parts of its civil code and formulated legislation to eliminate domestic violence. Many other examples demonstrate that the efforts to press on in women's movements have not been futile.
However, like many things worth pursuing, the path to genuine female empowerment isn't smooth. With every step forward, there seems to be some pushback. Here are a few figures on the predicament of many women and girls in these so-called modern times:
Women drivers are 47% more likely to have severe vehicular accidents because more car safety features are designed for men
750 million women alive today became brides before the age of 18
- 20% of women have been physically or sexually assaulted in the previous 12 months
- 178 countries keep legal barriers that prevent women of working age from full economic participation
- Women comprise only a little over 35% of total STEM graduates (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Retention in the workplace is also low due to discrimination and a lack of support.
Societal mindsets, lack of gender-inclusive policies and laws, and unequal access to education and employment are critical factors contributing to the continued prejudice and discrimination against women, including period stigma.
In this information age, you may be startled to know that period stigma still exists and even dominates certain cultures. Even in a first-world country like the U.S., 42% of women have experienced embarrassment because of their period. At work, it gets even worse, with 44% of men admitting that they've made at least one joke about their partners' mood swings while they were on their period.
The menstrual process is natural and beautiful. Without it, femininity will cease to exist. The human race will come to an end as no one can reproduce. Yet, instead of being appreciated and honored, the menstruation process is treated as something unspeakable. In fact, in one study, 51% of respondents were uncomfortable about menstrual cycle discussions by women at work. No wonder that, today, women feel like they have to hide the fact whenever they’re menstruating.
Women and girls in developing countries have it worse, with many perceiving menstruation as a cultural taboo. One of the primary beliefs is that menstruation is akin to impurity. For example, UNICEF reports that 48% of Iranian and 10% of Asian Indian girls think menstruation is a disease. In both Nepal and India, women and girls on their period are forced to stay isolated in dirty sheds for the duration of their menstrual cycle while they are "impure." This life-threatening practice called chhaupadi exposes the women to animal attacks, sexual assaults, and various diseases from poor sanitary conditions. In other countries, menstruating females are not allowed to cook, bathe, touch water, or engage in religious and cultural activities.
The lack of access to education and sanitary hygiene facilities has helped perpetuate menstruation myths and misconceptions. In Pakistan, 49% of girls don't know anything about their first menstrual experience, 44% do not have access to basic hygiene information and facilities, and 28% don't go to school when they're menstruating. In India, only 11.25% use sanitary pads. The study shows that 42.5% of adolescent girls replaced their pads every eight hours, and 65% never cleaned their genitalia while on their period.
The problem of period stigma has become a serious social and health dilemma, further aggravating gender inequality and discrimination against women. Much has to be done and fast.
Helping Empower Women by Ending Period Stigma
Women's discrimination and period stigma have become so ingrained in society that it will take consolidated multi-sectoral efforts to overcome it. Several high-profile world organizations have implemented some remarkable initiatives to combat women's disempowerment and period stigma.
- The UN Trust Fund and Restless Development Nepal paired up to educate young people and destroy misconceptions about menstruation.
- The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) distributes "dignity kits" in communities undergoing humanitarian emergencies to reinforce sexual and reproductive health services. These kits contain feminine hygiene products and other necessary paraphernalia. The UNFPA also supports inclusive sex education programs.
- The European Union has bolstered its EU gender equality strategy 2020-2025 by setting up the Gender Action Plan III. Among the key areas of this gender-inclusive roadmap are sexual and reproductive health and rights, ending gender violence, pushing for equal participation and leadership, and economic and social rights.
How can I contribute to empowering women and ending period stigma?
No drop is too small to fill up the bucket. In our individual ways, we can also contribute to all the hard work, sweat, and tears poured into women's causes and bring these into fruition. You can help boost women empowerment and create a more positive perception of menstruation in the following practical ways:
1. Help protect women and girls in crises
In humanitarian emergencies, women are most vulnerable. According to the Global Humanitarian Overview 2019, about 20% of refugee women have experienced sexual violence. Because not all cases are reported, the figures are likely to be higher. Even in "normal" times, millions of girls suffer from trafficking, forced child marriages, and other kinds of abuse. You can support organizations, such as World Vision's Girls & Women in Crisis Fund, that can provide the proper skills training, medical care, counseling to help put a stop to the horrific offenses against women and girls.
2. Help girls stay in school
Education is a powerful tool that can equip women and girls to be highly productive and autonomous members of society. However, one clear barrier is the lack of access to proper education, with 130 million unschooled girls aged 6 to 17 years. Help keep them in school by advocating for the "Keeping Girls in School Act" with your representatives in the U.S. Congress or Senate.
3. Be kind to one another
Many women confess to having a male friend as their BFFs. A common reason for this is that men supposedly tend to be more supportive. How can this be when, logically, women better understand what other females are going through and should therefore be more empathetic? However, in many cases, the opposite is true. This social phenomenon is called female rivalry, where women put each other down.
Patriarchal mindsets deeply ingrained in our consciousness continue to drive this behavior. One such example is the idea that opportunities for women are scarce, resulting in the conclusion that we have to duke it out with each other to survive.
Instead of pulling each other down, let's build each other up. Instead of looking at other women with a critical eye, why don't we look for ways to encourage, mentor, and educate them. Be generous with your praise of women with worthwhile contributions to society. Speak out in support of women's rights where you can. Be wary of applying double standards. In short, join the progressive company of #womenforwomen.
Ruby Love: Empowering Women and Girls Everywhere
Ruby Love is one company absolutely passionate about empowering women and ending period stigma. We have poured in our heart and soul to creating period apparel that allows women and girls to look and feel their best, even when on their period. Run, swim, get into whatever activity you enjoy—we’ve got you covered! Our Ruby Love Athletics Line for women features the new patent-pending "floating gusset" perfectly designed for optimal movement.Menstrual cycles need not be a struggle for girls either with Ruby Love Teen Period Underwear, with Dri-Tech Mesh technology that stops leaks from all sides and angles and has a built-in liner for maximum absorbency and comfort. Check out the full collection of female-empowering period apparel at Ruby Love today!