PRAGUE – Walking through the streets of Prague, it is hard to miss the beautiful street art that covers some of the quaint side streets.
Most notable is the John Lennon Wall. It symbolizes both freedom of speech, and peace and love.
Created first as a place of mourning after Lennon’s assassination in 1980, it evolved into a silent protest against the former Communist government.
Today, the wall is covered with political slogans, messages and artwork that convey a sense of freedom, belonging and community.
Alongside statements of solidarity against Russia’s war on Ukraine, messages of support for the LGBTQIA+ community and the calling out of racist and supremacist attitudes was a single sanitary pad stuck to the wall.
It got me thinking about the politicization of menstruation and why in 2023, we still live in a world where menstruation is political.
For as long as we continue to live in a world where ‘period’ is a word said in hushed tones and where menstrual products are seen as a luxury many women are unable to access, menstruation will rightly continue to exist on the political agenda.
The problem here is that something so natural shouldn’t HAVE to be on the political agenda.
Equal access to period dignity should be a given.
In 2022, the humanitarian organization Plan International carried out research on the state of menstruation. The results were upsetting, but not surprising. They reported that worldwide, “around 500 million girls and women lack access to adequate facilities to manage their periods.”
As a cisgender white woman living in the UK, I recognize my privilege when it comes to how easily I can assess menstrual products. But I am also deeply aware of the struggles that people face, not just worldwide but also in my own locality.
Similar research by Plan International UK on understanding attitudes towards menstruation in the UK found that “42% of UK girls have had to use makeshift period products because they struggle to afford menstrual products.”
The statistics are uncomfortable, but so was seeing the sanitary pad alongside other major political issues posted on Prague’s Lennon Wall.
By refusing all women and girls equal access and dignity when it comes to their menstrual health, society is reinforcing the idea that menstruation should be a taboo topic.
This creates a difficult cycle whereby something taboo is not spoken about, so solutions are not created and people’s needs are not met.
I’m incredibly passionate about menstrual health. This interest stems from the internalized shame and embarrassment that I felt about my periods when I was a young teenager.
A few years ago, seeing the sanitary pad on the Lennon Wall would have embarrassed me. I would have felt that it shouldn’t have been there because I thought menstruation was something that shouldn’t be spoken about openly.
Today, seeing the sanitary pad embarrassed me because I am ashamed that we are still having to have these conversations about menstruation, ashamed that hundreds of thousands of women and girls are unable to access what should be such a basic human right.
The journey to getting to a position where we no longer need to politicize menstruation will be a long one.
But if everyone reading this took one action, such as having an open conversation with someone about menstruation, then we can start to minimize the taboo surrounding the topic.
We could even open up a world where a sanitary pad is not seen as a political message.
Holly Hostettler-Davies is a Senior Correspondent with Youth Journalism International from Wales. She wrote this commentary and provided some of the photos.
Erin Timur is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International from Cyprus. She provided one of the photos.