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[Talk Summary] Breaking The Stigma On Periods And More

Across the globe, topics regarding menstruation are deemed as taboo. A quick Google search can get you an endless list of euphemisms used to describe menstruation – ‘Aunty Flo’, ‘Japanese Flag’, ‘Code Red’, ‘ABC: Allah Bagi Cuti’, ‘Lady Friend’ or ‘Shark Week’

So why can’t we just say the word period or menstruation? There is an unspoken shame, discomfort and stigma surrounding what is totally natural and part of a women’s physiological development.

Source: Everyday Health

The silence regarding the topic creates issues for women – starting from girls. Silence and shame are barriers to needful conversations in society and community. As a result of the hush-hush, there is a lingering lack of awareness around women’s reproductive health, sex and sexuality. 

Wiki Impact participated as a resource partner in a discussion with Womentum on the topic of “My Love-Hate Relationship with My Vagina”. The topic itself may make some people cringe immediately – and that’s the exact reason why educational and insightful conversations like these need to take place more often – in order to normalise taboo topics within society.

Many young ladies are ashamed or awkward to discuss even the most basic questions regarding their pelvic health, let alone sexual education. It has gotten to a point where shame overpowers the need for knowledge.” –

Sazzy Falak

By resisting the necessary conversations around women’s reproductive health and sex education, the aftermath of young girls trying to work things out for themselves have led to unnecessary problems such as teenage pregnancies. 

According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey (2017), 7 out of every 100 students that were surveyed (between form 1 to form 5), were sexually active. Underaged children were very much involved in sexual activities, however not many are aware of the proper precautions if these activities were to result in pregnancy[1]

The survey mentioned that on average, between 13,000 – 18,000 Malaysian teenagers became pregnant[1].

Source: The Rakyat Post

The issue extends beyond pregnant mothers. With young mothers fearing the shame and shun from family or community and the lack of resources to care for a newborn, babies are abandoned.

In 2019, former Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail mentioned that 1,010 cases were recorded from 2010 to May 2019, and in 64% of the cases, the babies were found dead[1]

These deaths could have been avoided with early education and consistent conversations around these topics. 

Barring a brief chapter of Form 4 science explaining basic anatomy, many school girls are not sure how to handle their first periods. It isn’t uncommon for a girl to get her first period and think ‘I’m Dying!” – Aishah Sinclair

When it comes to educating young ladies about their periods, it is also important to take note of the fact that not all girls are privileged enough to afford all the ‘period essentials’. 

Source: The Conversation

Period poverty describes the struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products. The term also refers to the increased economic vulnerability women and girls face due to the financial burden posed by menstrual supplies. These include not only sanitary napkins and tampons but also related costs such as pain medication and underwear[3].

Deborah (co-founder of Wiki Impact) shared a story of a woman who lives in Kuala Lumpur struggling to afford sanitary items every month. In desperation, some of these women have to resort to unhygienic methods to manage their periods.

There are women in downtown Kuala Lumpur that can only spend RM2 per month on sanitary pads. Women in rural areas are still using coconut husks, banana leaves and newspaper as replacements for sanitary items.

-Deborah Chan

The panel was reminded that period poverty still exists in Malaysia, and has such adverse effects on both girls and women.

Young girls unable to afford sanitary pads are more likely to skip school for several days every month. Missing out on their education because of the shameful ‘blood stain’ on their uniforms. Working ladies are faced with similar problems in the office. Struggling to handle cramps or not being able to afford pads, many are left to take unpaid leave, ultimately reducing their income[4].

The hush-hush mindset is having very damaging effects on the girls in Malaysia, and time for awareness has long been needed. The Womentum panel called for a need for transparency on all topics of menstruation, sexual health, and proper sex education.

Watch the full virtual talk on Womentum’s Facebook Page.

Explore Our Sources

  1. The Star. (2020). Teen pregnancies: We are failing to protect our teenagers. Link. 
  2. N. Hamzah. (2020). Baby dumping a serious social concern in Malaysia. Link. 
  3. UNFPA. (2020). Menstruation and human rights – Frequently asked questions. United Nations Population Funds. Link
  4. Kwan, F. (2020). The Painful Reality of Period Poverty in Malaysia. Free Malaysia Today. Link.

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