Sorry for Outraging Your Decency, but Our Menstrual Blood Is a First Priority

There has been a lot of talk lately about the menstrual cycle, especially with the worsening economic crisis in Lebanon and its impact on women’s access to the basic necessities associated with it.

This discussion, on the other hand, revealed the components of our society that are constantly raging against the female body and still reinforce the idea of stigma and shame associated with menstruation.

We are born and raised on stereotypes related to our reproductive and sexual health, so we learn from a young age to circumvent everything related to our menstrual cycle, for example, by calling it camouflaged names such as “It came”, “Aunt Warda”, “The Red Light”… We are ashamed of the sanitary pads that we hide under our clothes when entering the bathroom, and we feel burdened when buying them, as the supermarket workers rush to give us an opaque bag to hide them.

In our time, there are still people who publicly consider talking about menstruation disgusting, flawed, ridiculous, untimely, nauseating…

In some societies and cultures, social stigma goes beyond the limits of expression to the extent that menstruating women are considered impure and unclean, and restrictions are imposed on them such as prohibiting touching water or cooking, entering religious or cultural sites, or engaging in community activities, sometimes leading to the removal of menstruating girls to livestock pens or external sheds where they suffer from cold and isolation, which makes them feel worthless and hateful for their bodies.

Returning to Lebanon, and under successive political authorities that have always sought to tighten their patriarchal grip on women’s lives, rights, and bodies, women, girls, and marginalised groups remain the most affected in situations of stability and peace, as well as in times of crises and conflicts.

In addition to what women and girls already suffer and face daily from various forms of violence, marginalization, and discrimination, the recent stressful economic situation in the country, in addition to the state’s persistent neglect of the rights and priorities of women, has resulted in a new kind of suffering, represented by the difficulty of accessing hygiene products for financial reasons, which today is called “Period Poverty.”

During the escalation of the economic crisis, the Lebanese authorities were wrapped up in scandal over entrusting a committee of seven men with the task of drawing up a list of basic products to be financially supported by the government. The committee managed to itemise three hundred products, including men’s razors. However, monthly sanitary pads and supplies related to women’s health were rudely ignored.

Why wouldn’t they ignore it when they are basically unconcerned with our menstrual cycle? Why wouldn’t they consider everything related to the health and bodies of women defective and non-essential?

Here, I recall the famous American feminist activist Gloria Steinem’s question in 1978, “so what would happen if, suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not? Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event: men would brag about how long and how much it cost.”

And to add to Steinem’s answer, menstruation will become a national issue and a major priority.

The problem that women in Lebanon are facing today is not limited to the insane rise in the prices of sanitary pads and the inability of many women to buy these supplies, but also due to the scarcity of different brands in the market, in addition to the merchants’ control over the number of sanitary pads allowed to be purchased.

In this context, the “Plan International” organisation published a study that showed that until April 2020, 66% of girls living in Lebanon did not have the financial resources to secure menstrual supplies, while the Global Citizen website indicated that until mid-July 2020, the prices of menstrual supplies, which are mostly imported, increased by 500% above its base price. 

The United Nations Population Fund estimates that more than half of women in Lebanon will suffer from Period Poverty by December 2020. And just as a reminder, any woman/girl will need approximately two packs of sanitary pads every 28 days, in addition to a bottle of feminine douche for daily care of the intimate area, pain relievers and other related health supplies.

How long will they continue to undermine the dignity and rights of women? 

How long will the state and all concerned parties, in the current circumstances as in all previous eras, ignore the needs and priorities of women and consider them as luxuries and non-essentials?

 Sorry for outraging your decency, but our menstrual blood is a first priority, and it is no less important than any other national issue, whether it is political, economic, social or other. There is no health for a nation that rages against and neglects the health of its women.

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