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We failed, so now what?

While menstrual awareness is being given a much-deserved emphasis these days through social media, commercials, and the educational curriculum, we have failed to shed light on an important part of it that often remains neglected. Including all the “menstruating individuals” in the topic of discussion! Be it because of the lack of awareness, failure of realization, or any other reasons, the discussions about menstruation are often limited to “women”. We, as a society, have failed to recognize that “not all women menstruate and not all who menstruate are women”.

Living in a country with a lot of menstrual stigmas; receiving waves of laughter and stares while buying period products, something I have been experiencing is period products wrapped in newspapers because apparently, it is “shameful” if people find out that I, an 18-year old female, menstruate every month. With such existing stigmas related to menstruation, we can only imagine what trans men and other menstruating individuals go through when they are alienated in the conversation related to menstruation.

Seeing stereotypical female symbols or colors in period products and getting stares from people makes it difficult for trans men to buy period products. It constantly cements the idea that they are in a body they do not identify with. We have failed to recognize these difficulties in the process of opting for an inclusive society. So, it’s high time for us to start recognizing these diverse experiences and become inclusive.

A lot of trans men avoid going to public washrooms due to the fear of verbal harassment in female washrooms, confrontation, and the lack of trash cans in male washrooms. This compels them to leave their pads, tampons, or menstrual cups in for a long time until they get home, compromising their health. But why should they feel apprehensive to get access to something important for their health?

Gendering period products and period discussions as being specifically for females is a deeply rooted problem that has been ingrained in our minds since we were a child in the learning phase. I remember studying about menstruation from 5th to 10th grade as a “female trait” or something that is a sign of “becoming a woman”. Such ideas being taught from a young age has made it difficult for society to be inclusive of all menstruating individuals. We were taught or perhaps are still taught to excuse ourselves from classrooms during menstruation by stating it as a “girl problem”. So it’s about time for our education curriculum to start using terms like “menstruating individuals” in textbooks and educate students about menstruation not only being a “female thing”. When we worship education as something that brings positive change, we cannot let young minds be charged with misinformation.

As we continue to grapple with these beliefs, perspectives, discrimination, and stigmas against menstruation, period inclusivity is a topic that we miss out on. It is important that we include all the menstruating individuals in discussions, making them feel safe, comfortable, and understood by starting to use inclusive terms. In Nepal or in general, I do not remember seeing a period commercial being inclusive of all the gender identities. Media, as one of the most impactful sectors of influence, itself has failed in being gender-inclusive, so starting from here would be a great step towards period inclusivity.

From the packaging of period products to labeling places where we find them, making all of these gender-inclusive will contribute to making all the menstruating individuals feel comfortable; replacing “feminine products'' with “period products”, “woman’s health” to “reproductive health”, etc. Trans Men have been left out of the topic of menstruation for a long time, and it would be extremely unfair for them if we continue to remain silent. All the people who menstruate deserve to feel equally welcomed in the discussion about things they experience, feel respected for who they are, and for the bodily functions that they cannot control. But with our collective effort, we can hope to see labels such as “period products”, “gender-neutral washroom” or perhaps no label at all, next time we go to a hospital, supermarket, or public washroom.

We may have been taught things that are non-inclusive, at least I was, but the process of unlearning this and thwarting non-inclusive social norms is important. Yes, we as a society may have failed to recognize these important topics initially, but it’s never too late to start a positive change by defeating our ingrained non-inclusive perception. I alone may not be able to change the law but I can at least start using inclusive languages to help ease the difficulties that trans men experience. As we move towards period inclusivity and eliminating period poverty, we must recognize these diverse experiences because every menstruating individual deserves to be a part of the discussion.

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