The day I realised period poverty needs to be addressed in NZ
In an ideal world, we at the Wā crew would hope for everyone to feel empowered by their periods. However, it’s also important to recognise that for some people, getting their period might never feel empowering. It might feel strange and uncomfortable for many reasons, but, I’ve learned that even these discomforts should be voiced and validated rather than hidden away. It has been hard for me to learn that I am entitled to feel empowered by my period, but it has also been enlightening.
Growing up I did not realise periods were something to be proud of. I was taught that periods should be hidden behind closed doors and spoken about in hushed voices. The only place where I felt safe to actually have a conversation about my period, was cloaked in the anonymity that the over-saturated light of a night-club bathroom brings – a surreal place, at times filled with strangers scrambling for a tampon.
The first time I heard periods being mentioned in a positive light, was in conversation with a new friend. She declared she loved having her period, as it made her feel empowered and invigorated. She felt lucky to be reminded of how complex a human body can be. This was immensely confronting to hear. I always think back to this moment because – until then, I had never understood a period. Why was it was worth having one?
One of my first tasks as an intern for Wā was to gather primary research on people’s first periods. I found many of the answers to be truly heartbreaking. Individuals could not afford essential menstrual products. These people were my neighbours – we probably went to the same schools, growing up in the same city, but I had no idea we were experiencing our first periods so differently. I think New Zealanders are aware of period poverty as an issue which might exist in ‘other’ lower socio-economic countries. We are far less aware of period poverty’s rampant existence here in our own backyard – period poverty in New Zealand bleeds under the radar. The wildly harmful taboos surrounding periods prevent any opportunity for discussion. The consequential financial and social hurdles from this taboo leave local people struggling to afford essential menstrual products.
“I was too whakamā to tell anyone [about my period], so I either used handkerchiefs or toilet paper for at least 3 years.”
This was one of the survey results that really reinforced why we do what we do at Wā Collective. The concerning state of New Zealand’s period poverty needs to be addressed. The survey we launched highlighted a series of responses nobody could be prepared for. Personally, I never appreciated that when I get my period I am not only lucky enough that I menstruate, but that I have easy access to a range and choice of period products. I didn't think about it until now, because society doesn’t think about it. It hides under clothing and is thrown away along with our single-use menstrual products.
The taboo around periods is almost comical. Taking a step back to look at this is a rebellion in itself. Try to start a conversation and experience the taboo, see what reactions you receive. People would rather talk of war or death or assault, rather than the only blood that flows free of harm. ‘It’ is something not to be mentioned outside of a doctors office, bathroom or home and especially not in front of cis-men. This needs to change. We need to be able to discuss these topics as openly and frequently as periods occur to alleviate the harm and shame that has been wrongly allocated.
I aim to start as many conversations about periods as I can, and hopefully, inspire others to do so as well. So go on, flow free with your period chat - it will help us all.