As adults, it can be easy to forget the visceral feeling of getting your period for the first time. But when the subject comes up, it can bring us right back to those memories.
It's something that Saara Siddiqi knows all too well, as a program manager at St. Stephen's house with decades of experience talking to young people about periods.
"There's so much to unpack, when you're speaking to young people about periods," she says. "It's not something that's talked about, so it evokes giggles, and discomfort."
She's spoken with countless groups of young women, asking questions meant to encourage exploration of an uncomfortable topic what does it mean to them to have a period? What has their family taught them about it? How do they plan to approach period products? Every topic is fair game.
Often, she's asked what it was like for her when she was growing up. It makes her reflect on her own experience and consider what she will tell her own children when the time comes.
"I'm a practicing Muslim woman, and my children are in elementary school, so they're of an age where they see my practice," she says. "They also see when practice doesn't happen, and they ask questions like, 'Why didn't you fast today?'"
Many Muslim women take a pause from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan while they're menstruating, returning to their dawn-to-sunset fasting practice when their periods have passed.
At first, Saara wasn't sure how to answer her children's questions. Now, she's starting the conversation slowly, telling her children the women sometimes get a "pass" from fasting.
"I just tell them, 'I have a pass right now, and women get passes," she says. "That seems to be sufficient for now, and when the time comes, I can build on it."
Part of growing that conversation will mean bringing her daughter into the shared experience of menstruation in a way that feels safe and caring.
"I want her to know that she's going to enter into a special club with me," says Saara. "When I was growing up, my family threw a party, and the whole family was whispering about the fact that I was 'a woman now.' If I think about that now as an adult, I kind of wish it wasn't a party for everybody. I wish it was the women in my family bringing me into something."
Saara has a friend who's thinking of having a group of women over to talk about their period experiences when her own daughter gets her period.
"I think that's something I might like to do," says Saara. "Just have a group of women over to share and talk and love her up."
It's all part of the long journey to unpack negative societal messages about periods.
"It took a long time to move past the idea that they're dirty," she says. "Now, I just try to continue unpacking those ideas and apply a critical lens to my thoughts. Everyone deserves to have access to period products, and to talk about periods without feeling embarrassed or ashamed."
Period Diaries is a new series from The Period Purse, where we'll be sharing stories from a range of people who menstruate to better understand the different ways we all experience periods. If you'd like to be featured in our next instalment, get in touch at email@example.com
Black Lives Matter.
We believe that health equity is a shared responsibility, and that it will take a collective effort of support, cooperation and active participation to create real, sustainable change. The Period Purse stands with activists here in Toronto and beyond who are fighting against anti-Black racism and violence. We condemn anti-Black racism and anti-Black police violence and add our voices against systemic racism and oppression. Black Lives Matter.
As a Toronto-based charity that strives to achieve menstrual health equity for those facing socio-economic marginalization and living in the margins through outreach, education and advocacy, we support calls to declare anti-Black racism as a public health issue. We recognize the inequities created through deep rooted systemic racism and legacies of colonialism that leave Black people more vulnerable to the social determinants of health resulting in negative health outcomes. Today, systemic racism has both immediate and long term impacts on physical and mental health, and the social determinants of health. We support declarations that racism is a public health issue and crisis, and add our name to calls for action against systemic anti-Black racism. Black Lives Matter.
We stand with Black leaders and community health advocates and activists calling for action to confront the systemic racism and violence faced by Black communities, Indigenous people and People of Colour.
At the Period Purse, we work to destigmatize menstruation and address period poverty. And part of that work is changing the conversation.
We understand the weight that words carry. It's why we're constantly evaluating the language we use to discuss periods, and the people who experience them.
Earlier this month on Twitter, author J.K. Rowling questioned the phrase "people who menstruate." Her statements set off a very public debate on the topic of gender, language and transphobia.
We'd like to take this opportunity to share why we use inclusive language when we talk about periods at The Period Purse, by choosing the phrases "people who menstruate" or "menstruators."
It's a conscious choice, one we make to acknowledge everyone who has a period, not just cisgender women.
To make sure we're all on the same page, we'll be linking to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide throughout this piece, to give you the best possible definitions for the identities and experiences we'll be discussing.
While conversations about periods often frame them as a "women's health issue," it's essential to acknowledge the experiences of trans and non-binary people who have periods, while also understanding that not every cisgender woman has a period.
And while these terms have been used by academics and activists for decades, they can still create controversy.
The public debate over Rowling's statements led to four authors quitting her literary agency in protest. Rowling's views on sex and gender are just one example of a long history of anti-trans speech from cisgender feminists, often referred to as T.E.R.Fs (Trans-Exclusionary-Radical-Feminists).
As culture writer Samantha Riedel outlined in an article for Xtra Magazine, the use of gender-neutral language when discussing menstruation has been met with anger from cis women, who see it as an erasure of their own experience.
"Terms like 'menstruators' or 'people who have periods'...are now being used by health providers to better include non-binary and trans men who need their services. But some still view this as an attack on cis women and their bodies," she writes.
In order to address menstrual inequity we must include the wide range of people who have periods. To do otherwise would be to advocate for menstrual health for some, but not others.
"Naming our specific health concerns opens up greater opportunities for everyone to access appropriate care," writes Riedel. "When we rely on reductive, gendered labelling, we only shut down opportunities to talk candidly about our individual needs."
We hope that you will join us in using gender neutral language to talk about periods and the importance of menstrual equity.
We thank you for your continued support. If you are able, consider sponsoring a mensturator for only $12 a month.
Toronto city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and friends marking Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019 on Instagram.
If you live in Toronto, you know that progressive city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam has long been a supporter of menstrual equity.
Last spring, she successfully campaigned to increase Toronto's shelter budget to include menstrual products in shelters and drop-ins across Toronto.She is keenly aware of the difficulty of trying to afford expensive period products while living in poverty or experiencing homelesssness.
Now, she's deeply concerned about the well-being of those experiencing homelessness during COVID-19, what she calls a "crisis within a crisis.""Those experiencing homelessness don't have adequate access to sanitation, because there aren't enough publicly accessible washrooms," she says.
If finding bathrooms and period products was difficult before COVID-19, it can feel nearly impossible now that so many spaces are closed.
"What we know is that bathroom facilities are generally hard to come by when you are away from home," she says. "Those who have no home are reliant on businesses and public spaces, but those facilities are now closed. All those individuals who have relied on this patchwork of facilities are now left without."
As the crisis evolves, Wong-Tam says elected officials aren't looking at the problem with a gendered lens."I have yet to hear any elected official speak about menstrual equity at this time," she says.
She believes that building infrastructure that includes free period products is the only way to ensure access to everyone that needs them."We're not charging for toilet paper or hand soap," she says. "People should have access to these products."
That's why the successful campaign to include period products in Toronto shelters gives her hope. That, and the Toronto District School Board's decision to include products in school bathrooms."It gives me hope that we are talking about menstruation and how it affects people in poverty, because that wasn't the case even three or four years ago," she says.
She wants to continue having that conversation, to spread the message that periods are healthy and natural, and that we need to support the half of the population that has them."The conversation is about how to standardize bathrooms across the country so that if you are operating a bathroom it's standard practice: hand soap, toilet paper, and menstrual products," she says.
If you believe in menstrual equity, celebrate and amplify Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28. Tell your friends and family on social media and through word of mouth!
Did you know that this year, the city of Toronto will officially recognize Menstrual Hygiene Day for the third year in a row? The goal is to build awareness about the fundamental role good menstrual hygiene management plays in the lives of women and girls, especially considering challenges related to poverty.
Be part of the solution by becoming a regular donor to The Period Purse.
If you already donate, thank you! Another way to support us is to forward this to a friend who will appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this important and growing global movement.
Across Canada, our most vulnerable are struggling to access groceries and essential supplies, are without stable housing or living in an unsafe home, or are staying in shelters where physical distancing can be next to impossible.Yet in these difficult times, our community organizations continue to go above and beyond to support their staff and clients.
Take Sistering. The multi-service agency supports at-risk and marginalized women in Toronto. Their Spun Studio offers participants a chance to develop sewing skills, helping them create beautiful textile items that can be sold as a means of financial support.Now, that same program is hard at work creating hand-sewn masks for Sistering's staff and clients.
It's just one example of the ingenuity that so many shelters, drop-ins and agencies are showing in the midst of this crisis.We can all take inspiration from these initiatives and think creatively about how to help our own communities.
Whether it's sponsoring someone who menstruates, donating directly to shelters and drop-ins in your neighbourhood, or trying your hand at sewing homemade masks for those in need, there are countless things we can do to ensure our most vulnerable neighbours are seen and supported.
Of course, we can only help others when we take care of ourselves. We hope that you and your loved ones continue to be healthy and safe in this unprecedented time. Now more than ever we are grateful for your continued support.