Let’s talk about menstrual leave, shall we?

Let’s talk about menstrual leave, shall we?  Photo | Photosearch

What you need to know:

  • In an ideal world, women should be sitting on islands during this time, fed chocolate and/or wine, with leave days from work and free childcare
  • When a girl has her period, she’s usually hiding it from other girls in her class, and definitely hiding it from the boys.

In case you didn’t know, there is a particular pizza delivery service that can send you pizza at 1 am in the morning. How did I discover this important gem, so conveniently at the tail end of the month? Because I happened to be awake, with people in my house, and they were hungry. When I say people, I mean women. When I say women, I also mean women whose periods are starting this week and therefore have cravings for various things – in this case, oily, greasy, cheese topped foods.

What is it about the mysterious menses, and all the things that surround it? Either you have cravings like you’re pregnant while waiting for the assurance that you’re not, or nothing changes in your life at all. You may have mood swings that oscillate between wild happiness and crying at the sign of a falling leaf, or you’ll scream at anyone who asks if it is that time of the month – even if it is. This time of the month thing does different things for those of us who possess uteruses, even if we’re not using them for what society has decided the intended purpose should be – and the worst thing you can do is to mention it! We may be struggling already, and most likely, we already know. 

In an ideal world, women should be sitting on islands during this time, fed chocolate and/or wine, with leave days from work and free childcare, and with no one yelling at them. Unfortunately, in most countries, especially African ones, this is not the case – unless you live in Zambia, you lucky girl, where you get menstrual leave.

I’ve always thought that this period situation, which is a basic biological function for most, has been reduced to the type of thing we talk about with shame. When a girl has her period, she’s usually hiding it from other girls in her class, and definitely hiding it from the boys. If you miss school or work for cramps, more often than not you won’t say why. We have specific bags for carrying pads and tampons, deliberately designed to look pretty so that it looks like we’re carrying – a cute purse to the bathroom? Isn’t the reason obvious? Even in primary, when we were younger, we used to be separated to have ‘the talk’ with whoever was hired to talk to children – girls about menstruation and pregnancy, and boys about – actually, I don’t know where the boys were. Where did the boys go?

And why were they separated? Why shouldn’t men know how women’s bodies work? Why are they shielded from things they will continue to experience all through their lives? Surely you should know what the inside of your first home looks like. Surely you should be familiar with the fundamentals of human anatomy – not because you are ‘going to have a child’ or ‘came from a woman’ or ‘have a sister,’ but because knowledge is important. Maybe if we stopped talking about periods with such embarrassment, hiding sanitary products and misunderstanding each other, then the people who make the most laws in this country – statistically, mostly men – would not be making such silly ones. For example, why in the world are condoms free and easily available, but women have to pay extra taxes for sanitary products that we have no natural way to stop or choice over? Who made those rules?

Tell your children about the facts of life. All your children. Not doing so helps no one, and does not equip any of the parties involved with tools to deal with a period periodically – ha! – or practically, whether that means being sent to the supermarket for an emergency supply or making sure you have hot water bottles in the house. Start with – this is nothing to be ashamed about. It happens to over half the population. Get used to it.

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