Ending Period Poverty


May 6, 2020

Transcription

Note: We encourage you to listen to the audio if you are able, as it includes emotion not captured by the transcript. Please check the corresponding audio before using any quotes.

WOMAN WITH BRITISH ACCENT:
I think it was the next month, or the month after, that it just didn’t come. So I just got really worried. I thought, “I’m the Virgin Mary and I’ve somehow got pregnant.” 

[LAUGHTER]

WOMAN: I even took a pregnancy test. 

SECOND WOMAN WITH BRITISH ACCENT:
No you didn’t! 

WOMAN: I did. 

SECOND WOMAN: At what age?

WOMAN: I think I was like 13? Twelve, 13. 

SECOND WOMAN: How did you, how did you know to take a pregnancy test? Well, I guess —

WOMAN: I just thought, “I must be pregnant,” ’cause I said, it just — obviously I was stupid. I didn’t realize when you first got your period, it’s inconsistent.

I thought, “I’m the Virgin Mary. I’m going to have the new baby Jesus.”

[PERCUSSIVE SYNTHESIZER MUSIC]

NELUFAR HEDAYAT, HOST:
This is Course Correction, a podcast from Doha Debates. Each episode we’ll look at one big global problem and meet the people who are actively working to fix it. 

I’m Nelufar Hedayat. And I’m one of the billions of people on this Earth who menstruates. At this point, the other half of all the people might want to turn the podcast off and see what’s happening on TikTok — please don’t! Please stay where you are! This episode is as much for those who don’t menstruate, as it is for those of us who do. 

I know it’s about something you will never have experienced, and I get that it can be weird or daunting, but stick with me — this is way too important to skip. This affects someone you love, someone you care about, you want to see being happy and healthy.

Menstruation is one of the inflection points of gender inequity, and when we can really see what we mean when we talk about the oppression of your sisters, mothers and friends. 

You see, I have access to safe and sanitary products that I can use each month, but that’s not true of everyone. Around the world, hundreds of millions of people with periods have to opt out of their lives — your schoolmates, colleagues, friends and more — because they don’t have access to clean and safe products. And that has effects that ripple across communities, economies, even countries. Amongst those who do have access to products, the stigma attached to having a period can still be debilitating. Periods are dirty, shameful, taboo — and because we can’t talk about them, misinformation about them abounds. And that has real consequences for our lives.

WOMAN WITH BRITISH ACCENT:
I think the taboos are built up on this fact of it being misunderstood and seen as mysterious to men. And I think, to be honest, probably underneath it all is a feeling of men being slightly threatened by this thing that they don’t understand. And that might be fine, you know, 2,000 years ago. But I think in the 21st century, we can move beyond that.

NELUFAR: When I had my first period at age 9, I remember being confused. I grew up in a Muslim household with Afghan culture, and I was never in my life made more aware of it than the day I started menstruating.

I thought I was malfunctioning, that something’s wrong, that something was badly wrong. That I’d broken my body. My aunt was in the kitchen, and I told her, “I think I’m sick, I’m bleeding.” My aunt sat me down and told me that I’d become a woman. “You’re precious,” she said. “You need to protect yourself now.” Protect myself? From what? 

I asked her when periods finish. She said, “When you’re 50, it will stop.” And this is all I learned about my period. It was only later when I went to school and told my friends — girls and boys — that I realized only half of us were ever likely to get it. 

As I’ve grown in multicultural London, I’ve learned to hide this side of myself from view. At times, I’ve treated what happens in my knickers those three to seven days as a misfortune, as an inconvenience. And other times, I’ve prayed for them to go away. And on occasion, to hurry up and come.  

Look: The culture, belief system and circumstance of where you live right now determines a lot of what a period can mean. But culture, religion and circumstances are determined by women and men in communities. We are all responsible for how we talk about periods. Or don’t. 

[PERCUSSIVE MUSIC]

NELUFAR: So this week, I’m challenging my closest friends, all Afghan — some Muslim, some not — all having this conversation collectively for the first time. 

I sat down with five of my best friends to talk about periods, shame and taboo. 

WOMAN WITH BRITISH ACCENT:
Are we using our names? 

NELUFAR: Yeah. 

WOMAN: I don’t want to use my name!

NELUFAR: All right, you can call yourself “Cindy.” Go on, Cindy.

[LAUGHTER]

WOMAN: You better not put my name in this!

NELUFAR: All right, Cindy, continue. 

CINDY: So I was 11 when I started my period. It was the second week of secondary school. And on that day, a boy that used to sit next to me in form time touched my back, my lower back. I think he was trying to stroke it or something. No, he pushed past me in the corridor and he stroked past my lower back. I then went home and, as per usual, I went to the toilet. And what do I see? I see some blood, and I’m like, “What the hell is this?” 

So — I didn’t know what a period was, because I wasn’t in sex education. I was pulled out of it by my parents. So I thought, I literally thought I was dying. My cousin was at my house at that time, one of my eldest cousins. I ran to her, and I was like, “Oh my god, like something’s wrong, like I think, I think I’m going to die.” And then she was like, “No, no, no, no, you’re not. You’re fine.” But she’s like, “You need to use this.” So she gave me a pad and said, “This is what you need to use, and it will be fine.”

NELUFAR: Oh my god, so it wasn’t even your mum?

CINDY: No, I went to my cousin, because I didn’t know what it was. I thought that something had happened. I thought the boy that touched my back induced this! 

[LAUGHTER]

CINDY: So he was the reason I’m like now dying, like God’s punishing me, and there’s like blood pouring out of me.

NELUFAR’S FRIEND 2:
But the thing is, I remember being taught that that’s when you become accountable for what you do and don’t do. I think that’s when. That’s when you actually can sin. Before that I was like, yeah, we’ll be naughty or whatever, but from then on we’ll be held accountable for what we do. 

NELUFAR: I remember just being told very distinctly, like, I’m now a woman and I have something precious to protect. Like I felt like, why is this flipping burden that someone gave me in the form of blood, like congealed blood. Like my period felt to me like a moment when I was being signaled away — like I became something else, and I hated it. And especially ’cause like my auntie and my mum made it out like I had like a special thing to protect — like my period became linked to my sexuality and my hymen and my virginity. And like, especially as a, as a Muslim woman, when I was raised, I was told my virginity is my prize possession.

And I remember, like — well, when I used to have boyfriends at school, you know, I would be so nervous, thinking they’re going to take something from me, they’re going to take my virginity, like they’re going to touch me or put their fingers in me or whatever. And it’s going to all of a sudden take my virginity. So —

FRIEND 2: Yeah, because you hear all these stories about how you can lose it without meaning to, right? By, I don’t know  —

NELUFAR’S FRIEND 3:

 — horse-riding —

FRIEND 2: — horse-riding, bike-riding. It’s like, you have to avoid these things. Our dad was like, “You shouldn’t use tampons.” So —

NELUFAR: He told you that outright?

FRIEND 2: No, I think through my mum. It came through my mum. But it was, the girls should basically —

NELUFAR: Why — no, no, no — why shouldn’t you use tampons? 

FRIEND 2: I was, there’s no —

NELUFAR: But what would be the rationale? 

FRIEND 2: Virginity thing. 

NELUFAR: It’s not just tampons that are shameful, though. My cousin told me about a time she tried to buy sanitary pads in Afghanistan. 

NELUFAR: It was this market called lay-say Mar-yaam, into this like shopping court sort of thing. You had to go up to the third floor, go into this shop that had leggings and things — like clothing in plastic that they were selling. But when my two cousins, the younger girls, walked in, they asked for sanitary pads, and the guy had to move all the clothes out of the way and behind the clothes was the sanitary pads.

And then he was like, “What size do you want? Small, medium or large?” And she was like —

NELUFAR’S FRIEND 4:
And it’s always men selling it, right?

NELUFAR: Always men selling it.

FRIEND 4: Women don’t sell it.

NELUFAR: No, women never sell it in Afghanistan. It’s only men that sell it. 

But they, they’re so, they’re all — so that shop actually sells sanitary pads, but they can’t have it on display. So they’ve got these fake like bags of just —

FRIEND 4: Almost like it’s tobacco here, you know, behind sliding doors.  

NELUFAR: And then when they, when they, gave the sanitary pads to them, they wrapped it up in like two plastic bags and then put it in another plastic bag. ’Cause in one plastic bag you can usually see it. But they had to pad it up to make sure they couldn’t see it.

FRIEND 4: Almost like it’s embarrassing for all, right?

NELUFAR: Yeah.

I had the opposite happen to me a few years ago, where I was sat in an office. And my colleague next to me — I was like, “Do you have a sanitary towel?” And she went, “Ewwww. That’s disgusting. What? You just bleed out into your trousers?” And I was like, “No, into a sanitary towel. Like — I bleed out into a sanitary towel, that’s how I do it.”

She goes, “That’s so archaic. That’s so —” So like, I think as modern, young women of color, of different cultures or different like of Muslim heritage, or Muslim faith, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Like I got ridiculed in my office because I use a sanitary towel, and when I was a kid, the idea of using a tampon was like — I’ve like wronged my family honor. I still hate that I have periods. 

NELUFAR: Despite the massive taboo, people with periods still manage to find covert ways of talking about it. Like a coded language, we call it all sorts of things: Being “on.” Having Aunty Flo visit. “It’s the time of the month,” we say. “Being on the rag.” And even… the monster.

We’re all in our 30s now, and one of us, Sue, has a daughter.

SUE:
I just feel like I don’t want my daughter to feel ashamed of the little monster that lives inside her.

FRIEND 5:
Well this is why I’ve already had that conversation with my daughter, who’s 8 — well, when she was 8, I had the conversation. ’Cause I didn’t want her to experience what I did. That ignorance of not knowing and being worried and having all this anxiety. It’s not healthy. It’s not good for, you know, any of us. So I think it’s important to let them know early so that they know what to expect, and then they won’t go through the things we had to.

NELUFAR: It’s not just about decreasing the personal stigmas around talking about periods. Because these personal stigmas contribute to one of the most persistent and hard-to-change problems facing half the world’s population: gender inequity. When girls consistently miss school because they don’t have access to sanitary products, when women are shunned into the heat of the desert when they’re menstruating, when menstrual products are taxed as luxury goods, that directly affects womens’ economic power. When they’re forced out of places of worship because they’re seen as unclean — this means women are systematically disenfranchised. 

And frankly, people with periods have had quite enough. 

In India, some womenfolk have staged a monumental protest.

[ARCHIVAL AUDIO]

FEMALE NEWSCASTER:
Over 30 lakh women are expected to take part in over 600-kilometer human wall stretching from Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram. The event organized by the CPM-led Kerala government is aimed at showing the state’s commitment to renaissance values and improve the status of women in society, especially after the opposition to the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple.

NELUFAR: There is a movement growing worldwide to get menstrual health on the political agenda, and I want to speak to someone who has firsthand experience of what the struggle is like. 

My next guest is someone who has dedicated her life to fighting these stigmas on both the micro and the macro levels. And even before I sat down with Mandu, I knew this was going to be an illuminating chat. 

MANDU REID:
My name is Mandu Reid. I am the leader of the Women’s Equality Party. We are the first and only feminist political party in Britain, and I am the first person of color to lead a political party in British history. And I’m also the founder of The Cup Effect, which is a charity I set up a few years ago to tackle period poverty and address the stigma around menstruation.

NELUFAR: OK, full disclosure, everybody. I donate to the Women’s Equality Party. I am a massive fan of the work you do, both politically and also the, the, the kind of like organizing work that you do. So I just feel like that should be out there. That is a fact. 

OK, so first of all, let’s just, let’s just address the white elephant in the room: Menstrual health. Periods. Why is it difficult to get people to talk about this? Why are periods such a taboo subject? 

MANDU: I think because it’s an experience that happens to women and girls. I think that’s the reason why, and I think the taboos are built up on this fact of it being misunderstood and seen as mysterious to men.

And I think, to be honest, probably underneath it all, is a feeling of men being slightly threatened by this thing that they don’t understand. And that might be fine, you know, 2,000 years ago. But I think in the 21st century, we can move beyond that. Men and women need to get to know each other a little better. And I think the stigma and taboo will start to erode the more open we can be about this.

NELUFAR: Do you remember your first period?

MANDU: Absolutely. I was 13. My mother and father were living in separate — different — countries at the time, and I was living with my father. I was living in the UK at the time. My mother was living in Southern Africa, what was called Swaziland.

And my period started, and I knew what it was, because there wasn’t a kind of prohibition about discussing the biological aspects of it in my household. I knew what it was, and I went to tell my father — I’ll tell you what, if I was embarrassed, you should’ve seen his face. I mean, he really, really kind of recoiled. He wasn’t disgusted, but he recoiled, because he just didn’t know what to do.

NELUFAR: It’s unfamiliarity.

MANDU: It was totally unfamiliar to him. And I rang my mother in Swaziland and I told her, “My period has started.” She sang me this song — let me sing it for you. This is how it goes. It’s in her native language. It goes like this: 

[SINGS SONG]

MANDU: I don’t speak my mother’s language, so I didn’t know what that meant. And she explained it to me, she translated it. It meant, “The pot washer has come of age.” And it was really interesting for me when I reflect now, to think, “Hang on a minute — so my period starting is linked to something about my role, you know, in the family, in the community and all of that.” For her, it was a celebratory song. She was delighted. I was not impressed that, that —

NELUFAR: That you’re the new pot washer?

MANDU: Yeah, yeah. I was like, “Oh, great.” It did nothing to improve my sense of embarrassment about it. I went to the shop, I bought, with my father — so awkward — we bought, I don’t know, pads that we had seen the adverts for on TV. 

Used them, they were uncomfortable. I went to school the next day and I didn’t want to tell any of my friends. Not like me — I’m more of an oversharer. 

NELUFAR: Right.

MANDU: I’m more of an open kind of extrovert.

NELUFAR: But you knew inherently, Mandu, you knew in your bones — it was a knowledge that you had before you could think — 

MANDU: Yes, absolutely.

NELUFAR: — that this is something to hide.

MANDU: It’s insidious. Like we were both clearly programmed. So it’s something that’s almost culturally or socially hereditary, passed down from generation to generation. And frankly, it doesn’t do us — anybody — any good.

NELUFAR: Around the world, whether you live in the global north or whether you live in the global south, a girl having her period can be the difference between her risking her life and limb, going out to try and buy period products or sanitary care products, her being shunned by her family or being forced into servitude, being forced into marriage —

MANDU: Indeed.

NELUFAR: — and all the way through to us. You know, we’re both from different cultures and heritages growing up in the UK, to kind of knowing that you’re now a woman. And what does that mean, and how do you navigate that world? So I guess my question to you is, you’ve studied this, you’ve, you’ve set up an NGO, an organization, about it. What motivated you about the discussion as we’re having on a global level to, to do that?

MANDU: I mean, it was quite personal, in a way. When I was 26, I discovered for the first time a menstrual cup. I don’t know if you’ve heard of menstrual cups. They’re an alternative to pads or tampons. It’s a little kind of squidgy, soft cup that’s made of a medical-quality silicone, and you use it — you have to insert it — and it collects your menstrual blood and you empty it and then you reuse it. They last for 10 years, and I’ve used mine for the full 10 years, the same menstrual cup. 

NELUFAR: Wow. 

MANDU: I discovered it when I was 26 years old, and I was really disgusted at the idea when it first came to my attention —

NELUFAR: OK, because it grosses me out!

MANDU: Of course it does!

NELUFAR: I don’t want to — 

MANDU: Of course it does. 

NELUFAR: Squidgy.

MANDU: Yes, I can completely relate to that because that was my experience, too. But I don’t like to be a chicken, right? 

NELUFAR: Right.

MANDU: So I’d kind of discovered it, and I’m the kind of person, I have an adventurous spirit, I gave it a try. And I’ll tell you what: It almost instantaneously improved my quality of life overnight. It was more comfortable, more reliable and more convenient than anything I’d ever used before.

And that got me thinking. I thought to myself, “Hang on a minute, how come I’ve only discovered this thing when I’m 26 years old?” And I looked into it, and menstrual cups were first invented in the 1930s — there is nothing brand new about menstrual cups, right? And then I understood: That actually one factor is the taboo that we’ve already discussed. 

NELUFAR: Uh-huh.

MANDU: Another factor is the way capitalism interacts with all these things. Because if you think about it, a menstrual cup is an awful business idea. I sell your products and I’ve lost you as a customer for a decade. And I thought to myself, this thing could potentially be a game-changer in parts of the world where women and girls don’t have it quite as easy as I do. Yeah? And I didn’t have to look very far, because my mother is one of those women and girls. She grew up in rural Malawi, and she’s not from a middle-class background — you know, we’re a middle-class family now, but she grew up in pretty much borderline poverty. 

NELUFAR: Same as my mother. 

MANDU: Right!

NELUFAR: Yeah.

MANDU: And so for her, when she started her period, she had no alternative but to use dirty, not-fit-for-purpose cloth that you’d have to wash manually, and because of the cultural taboos, you couldn’t hang up in the sun. You had to — she had to put it under her sleeping mat, and so it wouldn’t dry properly. She had a horrendous experience through her teenage years because of having to struggle with the mental burden, the shame, worrying it’s going to fall out and embarrass her.

And so I had this conversation with my mother and she said to me, “Yeah, it would have been absolutely transformational” for her if she had something that she could reuse, that was comfortable, that was reliable, that didn’t smell, that didn’t have a probability of leaking and embarrassing her.

NELUFAR: That wasn’t going to give her an infection, that wasn’t covered in dirt and dust —

MANDU: All of that, all of that stuff.

And so that was where the idea for my charity, which is called The Cup Effect, sort of originated. And I thought, “OK, I’ve just spoken to one woman and she’s my mum. Let me go and actually test this on the front line.” And so I took a sabbatical from my job, five months off unpaid, and I went to Kenya and hooked up with some local community organizations that work with women, and introduced the idea. Same reaction: They were disgusted at the idea of a menstrual cup. 

[LAUGHTER]

MANDU: They were not used to talking about periods. But I explained my personal experience, I brought my mother’s backstory into the room, and by the end of my first kind of three-hour session, most of the women and girls in that group were prepared to give it a try.

NELUFAR: Wow.

MANDU: And the feedback we had was phenomenal. And so it really started from there.

NELUFAR: How did you deal with the cultural side of things? I mean, Kenya is, is a thriving economic and cultural country in Africa. It’s slightly different to a lot of other places, like, for example, Afghanistan, which is where I come from.

MANDU: Sure.

NELUFAR: The idea of “deflowering” yourself —

MANDU: Yeah.

NELUFAR: — with a cup would be just unimaginable. So how did you deal with that?

MANDU: Yeah, I mean, I will say about one of our most successful projects in Kenya was in a place called Lamu, which is on the north coast of Kenya, a very conservative, predominantly Muslim community. And we did a project there where we introduced cups to 3,000 local women.

And the approach was not to just show up, right? And as this eccentric English woman and say, “Use this.” We, we, we, we did a real slow burn. We spoke to community leaders. We spoke to the imams in that area. 

NELUFAR: Wow!

MANDU: We introduced the —

NELUFAR: So imams being male religious leaders of the villages in the area.

MANDU: Yes. Thanks for clarifying, absolutely.

And their recommendation to us was, “This is an interesting idea, not appropriate for unmarried girls.”

NELUFAR: Right.

MANDU: So they put some boundaries around, where and whom we could introduce the idea to. And that’s how we began. And, and we introduced the idea as well with a whole information package that linked where menstruation is mentioned in the Quran. And that actually really situated the subject within people’s cultural knowledge and experience and context. 

NELUFAR: Oh god, it’s just amazing to hear you speak about this, because what you did was you didn’t do the whole “white knight, I’m going to go over to a different country and give them the future and democracy and menstrual health.” You respected their faith, you respected their culture, you spoke to men about periods. That in itself is revelatory for me, and I want to take you back to that moment. 

MANDU: Yeah. 

NELUFAR: Paint me a picture of what it was like to enter these spaces. How did you manage to do that? How did you —

MANDU: I mean, there’s a few basics. In Lamu, you know, I was never dressed like this. I was always fully covered, I was wearing a hijab and I did very little of the talking. It was the women from our local organization who spoke the local language, which is a particular dialect of Swahili, who led the interaction with the sorts of community leader figures in —

NELUFAR: Men.

MANDU: Yes — pretty much men, almost exclusively men.

They led those conversations and it’s really interesting, and I know menstrual cups are a little bit niche, but in a way, they give you a quite easy entry point because there’s lots of sort of technicalities that people are curious about and that you get to lead the conversation in men’s comfort zone. I think you’ve got to create the space for people to comfortably express the things they’re concerned about. Otherwise, you don’t allow an environment where the openness that we need to be established, it doesn’t, it doesn’t flourish. It doesn’t grow. It doesn’t flow — flow, what a pun there. 

[LAUGHTER]

MANDU: But in any case, by the end of these kind of initial meetings that we had, they were inviting us into the community, you know, and said, “We think this could be beneficial to some of the women, particularly the women who are on the lowest incomes who are struggling.”

And so we gave people facts. We listened to their concerns. The virginity issue — we had a conversation about virginity. I explained my view of virginity: It’s when you have sexual intercourse. They explained, “It’s when the hymen has been breached in any way.” And so the joint conclusion was: not suitable for girls of a particular age group. That wouldn’t have been my decision if I was implementing the project cause I chose, but it’s not about me. It’s about the communities.

NELUFAR: Right. Yes.

Period poverty is only something that’s really come to the fore in my experience in the last like year or two, is when I started to hear and read stories on like female-friendly websites about girls in one of the richest countries on Earth, one of the most open societies in the world, arguably, in the UK, about young girls who are literally missing out on going to school and education because they’re on their periods. 

Aside from being ashamed of that, I could remember instances in school — I went to a really poor school down the road from here in a very socially deprived area. And I can remember some of my girlfriends who wouldn’t come in on the first or second day of their period.

MANDU: Yes.

NELUFAR: And they would say it was because of cramps. And I knew it wasn’t because of cramps. And I’m thinking back into my past, and my history, thinking, “I completely wasn’t aware that these period pads and these tampons and all these things, they cost money. Money people don’t have.”

MANDU: Yep. If you’re living on the bread line, whether it’s in the UK or like my mother’s experience, which — my mother’s experience would be more reminiscent of what people think about when they conceptualize poverty, yeah? But here in the UK, we have poverty. We have people that are really struggling to make ends meet. And if the breadwinner in the household, the person who controls the purse strings, is a man, and that’s often the case, if you’re a teenage girl, and there’s all this taboo and stigma that prevents us from talking openly about this, it may well be difficult to ask for the cash you need to buy the products that you require to manage your period in a dignified, comfortable way. And I always talk about period poverty as poverty in financial terms, but also poverty of knowledge and also poverty of openness and, and, and the ability to, to speak plainly about what’s happening to you and ask for what you need.

And most of us, actually, when you frame it in those terms, have experienced some form of period poverty. But absolutely, in the UK there are girls in this wealthy country who have had to skip school because they don’t have access to the products that they need. Luckily, though, that has been addressed, and I’m really proud to say that the reason it’s been addressed is campaigning of a lot of youngsters, actually, who have taken it upon themselves to challenge the government, and we now have a situation where pledges have been made to the tune of multiple millions of pounds to make sure period products are available in every single school. And that is a phenomenal achievement. It shows how when you mobilize, when you organize, when you break free from the shackles of shame, stigma and silencing — which are foot soldiers of the status quo — when you rise above shame, stigma and silencing, you can get extraordinary things done. And I think my work with The Cup Effect was an example of that, but absolutely what the activists have done, young people, women in their late teens, what they’ve done to challenge this situation has resulted in a situation now where we’re not going to have girls going forward who experience what you’ve described from your classmates in the same way as it was just a problem that we all shrugged our shoulders about or fail to acknowledge at all. 

NELUFAR: And a lot of the girls in my — like I grew up with a lot of people from diaspora, right?

MANDU: Yes.

NELUFAR: So Bengali diaspora and Somalian diaspora, Afghan diaspora. And it wasn’t just that we lacked the financial means to go buy things like pads and tampons and, and things like that. But it was like, we couldn’t leave the house at certain points, right? So we literally couldn’t go to the shop where they sold those, like we didn’t have the permission.

MANDU: Yes.

NELUFAR: So it’s not just the lack of information or, or a lack of wealth or money, but access, sometimes, itself is a huge problem. And then there’s the fact there seems to be a huge gap in our knowledge of women’s needs —

MANDU: Yes.

NELUFAR: — and women’s health.

MANDU: Yes. 

NELUFAR: But then there’s the impact that a lot of these products have on the environment. I mean, we’re talking about things — sanitary towels that have formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals, plastics that lay in the environment for hundreds and hundreds of years. There’s an ecological cost to all of this as well.

MANDU: Absolutely. And I think that’s an example of why the subject has gained a little bit of momentum over the last couple of years.

The average sanitary pad will contain approximately three plastic bags’ worth of plastic, and this is, this is plastic that will take about 500 years to biodegrade. So if the sanitary pads existed when King Henry VIII was the King of England, they would still exist here and now today. And a woman through the course of her life, will use about 12,000 pads or tampons. And that equates to two mini-buses full of this sort of waste.

NELUFAR: Per human person.

MANDU: Per human being, per person who menstruates. And so actually, that kind of analysis, that lens on the problem, is one of the reasons why it’s got more attention and it’s become easier to talk about it and easier to get a political response and reaction to it, because it’s linked to an agenda that everybody is taking a lot more seriously now.

NELUFAR: Mandu, how do we address this? What can the people who are listening to you right now do to make the changes that will benefit half the people on this planet?

MANDU: I mean, it links to something I’ve already said.

The first and most basic step — and you can start small — this thing I mentioned about silence, shame and stigma. Try and work on the ways that has affected you. Try and open up. Just experiment. Go small baby steps at a time. Experiment with opening up to somebody, perhaps close to you, about stuff that you’ve historically been ashamed to talk about. And I think you’ll find that that rapidly progresses and gives you confidence and gives you the ability to work together with others to start to address the, the, the slightly bigger-picture problems. I mean, I started, and I, I’ve told you I’m not a shy person, but I started finding all of this really, really awkward.

And five years later, I’m leading a political party that’s leading the charge to actually try and dismantle some of these inequalities. So my journey is an example that I don’t see why others can’t just replicate and follow. I’ve been through all of that.

NELUFAR: We all need to be Mandu Reid, is what I’m getting out of it.

[LAUGHTER]

MANDU: No! You need to be yourself. You need to be yourself! Absolutely

NELUFAR: Be yourself. That’s advice I can definitely take. So much is happening right now, the world seems like it’s standing still and changing all at the same time. But this part of our collective communities, cultures and societies, the part about gender inequity, period poverty and period shaming is something we can and should leave behind. 

That’s our show today. Let’s hear from you. How have you had “the conversation” about periods? And what can we all do to help break the taboo?

[CREDITS]

Tweet us at @DohaDebates. I’m at @Nelufar, and I always love hearing from you. Course Correction is written and hosted by me, Nelufar Hedayat. The show is produced by Doha Debates and Transmitter Media. Doha Debates is a production of Qatar Foundation. A special thank you to our team at Doha Debates — Japhet Weeks, Amjad Atallah and Jigar Mehta. If you like what you hear, rate and review the show — I’ll read them, and it also helps other people find us. Join us for the next episode of Course Correction wherever you get your podcasts.

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