March 4th: Sh*t You Didn't Learn In School
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What does menstrual health have to do with financial health? (Turns out, a lot)
According to a leaked draft bill, Spain is planning to introduce medical leave for women and people who suffer from severe period pain. This could mean three days of leave a month, extended to five in some circumstances. To the people involved with drafting this bill, respectfully we say: go off, sis 💅
64% of Americans now live paycheck to paycheck. Imagine trying to make a budget so that you can get through the month, then having to take a day, or days, off ~unpaid~ because you’re hit with severe cramps (sickness, fainting, back pain - any other menstrual delights).
This loss of pay is the difference between falling into your overdraft, paying rent on time, and putting food on the table. Alternatively, it’s the difference between resting or having to work while in significant pain.
The average person who menstruates has their period for 2,535 days of their life. That’s nearly seven years’ time. If you’re one of the 1/10 menstruators who suffer from severe period cramps, this could result in a good amount of pay lost to pain.
Importantly, this injustice screws up monthly budgets!!! And we love budgets!!! (Joke)
Things have come a long way for menstrual health justice. By ‘a long way,’ we mean we’re not in the good ol’ days of being locked up in insane asylums for conditions such as ‘suppression of menses’ or being ‘menstrually deranged’ anymore.
Let’s start at the shallow end, with workplace culture. The taboo around periods is so strong that grown adults have smuggling tampons up our sleeves and into the bathroom down to a fine art, so that no one knows we’re *gasp* on our periods 🕵️ Only to get to the bathroom and find there is no sanitary waste bin in there.
Then there’s the shame: from being shut down by the accusation of ‘having blood coming out of her wherever’ to the embarrassment of being perceived as a slacker for needing time off.
It’s this taboo that keeps chronic conditions like endometriosis undiagnosed. Despite it being something that 11% of American women suffer from, including the coal miner’s daughter with the voice of a songbird herself, Dolly Parton.
Our foremothers burned their bras so we could don shoulder pads and join the labor force alongside our male counterparts, right?
In this country we can’t be expected to cater to people who need flexible working because of recurring health problems, ESPECIALLY in positions of power…right?
Spoiler alert: I was setting you up there. We can and have catered for people in this situation, namely J.F.K, who suffered from chronic back pain throughout his career and was afforded top health care and flexible working throughout. While literally managing to be President of the USA.
It’s all about the way we conceive of period pain and illnesses associated with women in general - as something dirty and shameful rather than a natural rhythm our bodies go through. Menstrual leave would mean recognizing period pain as a legitimate health condition, something that differs for everyone.
For many people, their periods don’t affect their day-to-day lives. Most people with severe period pain don’t want to be bedbound during our periods, we *gasp* want to be out there engaging in the world but shouldn’t feel like shit for having to rest.
If anything, we should feel like a mysterious, elegant woman from a Victorian novel. Feverish, but glowing. Bedbound but make it cute 💖
On a realsies, the bare minimum a workplace should do is support this choice. Because we’re not machines. Well, some of us are (ahem, Cleo).
These workplaces (like Cleo) provide sick pay and understand that we all need a day off when we’re unwell - period pain being no different to any illness. Unfortunately, many working in the gig economy don’t have this privilege. Menstrual leave would set a precedent for other companies and our culture to do better.
Unfortunately, period poverty is a global issue, and the USA isn’t immune.
Students, low-income and homeless women and girls, transgender and nonbinary individuals, and those who are currently imprisoned struggle with period poverty.
It starts in schools. A poll of 1,000 young people in the UK recorded three absences per semester due to period challenges such as a lack of access to period products. One in every ten schoolgirls in sub-Saharan Africa miss school daily.
Here are the facts:
- For many in the US, the price of a box of pads or tampons is extortionate 📈 Currently, 35 states view these items as luxury goods and impose sales tax, a.k.a the “tampon tax,” on menstrual hygiene products.
- Unlike groceries and medication which are considered non-negotiable necessities and are tax-exempt in most states.
- Although more women than men live in poverty in the United States, period products cannot be purchased with food stamps, Medicaid, or health insurance spending accounts.
The first goal of menstrual health justice should be the health and well-being of people who menstruate. But even from a professional perspective, everyone suffers when half of the workforce suffers. And communities are better off when girls aren’t curtailed from becoming leaders.
In 2017, Megan Markle wrote a powerful article in Time that exposes how communities and countries fail girls by not starting an open dialogue about menstrual health and hygiene.
Helping Women Period is a Michigan-based non-profit which gets menstrual products to people experiencing relationship violence, who have been denied access to resources due to systemic racism and institutional biases.
Bloody Good Period is a UK-based non-profit that gets menstrual products to vulnerable people, specifically asylum seekers and refugees.
This work is paving the way for a new discourse on menstruation.
Maybe one day, organizations in the US will take a leaf out of Spain’s book. Until then, it’s important we keep talking about periods.
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Big love. Cleo 💙
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