It’s time to discuss menstruation on campus—period

Period stigma and product inaccessibility must be addressed at Queen’s

Jessica Dahanayake believes it’s time to initiate a positive and empathetic culture toward periods on campus.
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I menstruate regularly for around five days each month, and I want you to be happy for me instead of grossed out.

If you do think that’s gross, I challenge you to read this article in full.

I want you to be happy because the fact that I’m regularly menstruating means I’m in good health. It’s a sign that my reproductive system is functioning properly.

Menstruation is a natural process that has quite literally existed for as long as we have.

That’s why we’re long overdue for a culture shift towards periods on our campus. The average menstruator will spend a quarter of their entire university career menstruating, and every student either menstruates or knows someone who menstruates.

Menstruation is a natural and common phenomenon that makes human life possible, yet stigma around periods and accessibility to period products don’t reflect the fact that it affects so many students on campus.

Everyone has a part to play in the conversation around menstruation, one of them being to understand what a period is and what it entails. So, here’s a quick lesson: a period is the uterine lining exiting the uterus, which is meant to provide nourishment for a fertilized egg, should there be one in the person’s uterus.

An unfertilized egg gets released into the uterus every month and will stay in the uterus for around 21 days, where it can get fertilized by a sperm.

If it doesn’t get fertilized, the person will get their period, and the egg, along with its nourishment, will exit the uterus. The unfertilized egg consists of blood and tissue, and the person will need to use period products to absorb or catch the lining.

If the egg does get fertilized, then the uterine lining will stay, and the individual will become pregnant.

It should be obvious by now that a period is not something a menstruator chooses to have. Similar to how all human beings don’t choose to need to drink water when they are thirsty, a menstruator doesn’t choose to have to obtain period products when they are on their period.

We’re all fine with asking a professor to leave the class to get a drink of water, and it should be just as easy to ask to leave to attend to a period—but it’s not.

This stigma around a normal and beautiful phenomenon that is so essential to human life makes no sense. Menstruation isn’t going to disappear from our lives any time soon, but there are steps we can take to alleviate the stigma.

By understanding and empathizing with our peers who menstruate, we eliminate the need for menstruators to feel afraid of talking about their period or to hide their period products.

By ending the use of terms such as “time of the month,” and using correct terms which wrongly hold negative connotations as a result of stigma (such as PMS—Pre-Menstrual Syndrome), we can stop alienating periods along with their associations and start looking at them as a natural function.

By acknowledging period products are essential and not a luxury item, we can ensure that those who require period products can access them.

By ending the association of period products with the female population alone, we can start acknowledging that menstruation does not have a gender requirement. Anyone with a functioning vagina can have the ability to menstruate, and we need to start normalizing the fact that not everyone who needs period products is female-presenting. Period stigma is further amplified with the addition of social stigmas related to gender norms, as there’s little acknowledgement in our society that males or non-binary individuals can menstruate.

The Toronto District School Board recently unanimously decided to make period products accessible, in light of studies which now show that one in seven menstruators will miss some school due to a lack of accessibility to period products. It’s evident from these other institutions that strides can and should be taken to ensure those who need period products can access them in a socially and financially inclusive manner.

Post-secondary institutions such as Western, Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, and Centennial College in Toronto have already initiated programs providing free menstrual products for their students.

One effective way to alleviate period inaccessibility for university students is to make the products available in the places where most people realise they need them: in on-campus restrooms. This ensures that students attending academic and extra-curricular commitments don’t have to spend time worrying about attending to their period on campus— something they have no choice in doing.

Restrooms on campuses are meant to be equipped to provide the bare necessities for their users; such as toilet paper, paper towel, hand dryers, and more. It’s time to acknowledge that period products are a similar bare necessity.

After all, it’s not an expectation for us to bring our own toilet paper everywhere we go.

A conversation on menstruation has been long overdue on our campus. Students who come to Queen's should be primarily focused on their academics and extra-curriculars—not on their periods. Menstruation requires financial and logistical planning.

The era of hiding tampons and pads in our sleeves needs to end, and we need to stop being afraid to approach conversations about periods.

Instead, we must start talking about solutions to getting rid of the stigma and inaccessibility surrounding menstruation on campus, considering the significant role it plays in a menstruator's time here at Queen's.

Jessica Dahanayake is a fourth-year Electrical Engineering student and the vice-president (Operations) of the Alma Mater Society.

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