Challenging the Silence on Menstruation

Menstruation, such a natural phenomenon, is often relegated to silence in public dialogues. But it is essential to discuss it to eradicate false beliefs and confront inherent inequalities.
At the Rio Olympics, renowned Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui cited her menstrual period as a reason for not performing her best in the 4x100 meter relay. His candor sparked surprise and debate online. It is rare for a public figure to so openly address the discomforts linked to menstruation. Despite being an experience for almost half the world, it is rarely touched upon in intimate dialogues and even less so on massive platforms. There are those who believe that it is time to challenge this silence that reflects inequalities.

The Role of Activists and Practical Inequalities

In one notable case, Rupi Kaur, an Indo-Canadian artist, took on Instagram for removing images showing a stain of menstrual blood on her clothes. She highlighted the paradox of a culture that feels comfortable seeing women in revealing outfits but becomes upset when faced with a natural signal from the female organism. In a similar gesture, Kiran Gandhi, British musician and activist, decided to run the London Marathon without using hygiene products during her period, to highlight the challenges that many women face globally by not having access to essential hygiene resources.
Menstrual stigma is not only cultural, it also has practical aspects, such as the cost associated with hygiene products. It is believed that, in her lifetime, a woman could use thousands of tampons and pads, which involves a considerable investment. In various territories, the tax rate on these products, considered essential, has been questioned. Additionally, there are questions about their safety, as they often contain chemicals whose long-term impacts are ambiguous. More clarity has been urged regarding its ingredients, although there is no general consensus. It is noteworthy that the menstrual sector shows some stagnation in innovation. The menstrual cup, for example, was designed in the 1930s. Although it has benefits such as durability and sustainability, its rise is recent.

Movements in Europe and the Future of Menstrual Taxation

Interestingly, as the dialogue around menstruation grows, in advanced nations, some women may choose to suppress their period through continuous hormonal contraceptives. While this option provides relief to some, it is vital that women decide freely, without feeling pressured by sociocultural criteria.
In Europe, a movement against the "buffer tax" has emerged. Originating in Great Britain in 2014, this movement, supported by some 300,000 citizens, sought to eliminate VAT on feminine products, since menstruating is not optional. Responding to this demand, the British government chose to abolish such a tax. France also reconsidered, reducing VAT from 20% to 5.5%. Canada, on the other hand, opted to remove the tax entirely. It is notable that Kenya had implemented similar measures in 2004. Switzerland, however, has remained less agitated in this debate. Despite proposals to reduce VAT on essential hygiene products, the initiative did not prosper. The main concern was that it could open the door to other tax exemptions. However, with the changing stance in other European countries, Switzerland is likely to reassess its position in the near future.

The Path Toward Menstrual Equity

Without a doubt, the topic of menstruation and its perception in society has evolved, but we still face challenges. It is imperative that open dialogue continues to be promoted and cultural and economic norms and practices that perpetuate stigmas and inequalities continue to be challenged. Recent movements and actions in Europe and other places around the world show that it is possible to create significant changes. The challenge for the next generations will be to ensure that these advances are not limited to one region or culture, but are adopted globally, guaranteeing all women the respect, understanding and support they deserve in relation to their menstrual health.

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