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Busting Myths With Candice Chirwa, Minister of Menstruation

A myth is a well-known story that was made up in the past to explain natural events or to justify religious beliefs or social customs. From the time I started menstruating, I have always remembered the different information I was told about periods, and I was either left in disbelief or utter shock based on what I heard and as a result for the first 11 years of my period I had an awkward relationship with my period and my body. I always felt the need to stay away from people (specifically the opposite sex) or be afraid to go swimming because of the unverified societal and cultural restrictions/myths that surrounded periods.

Over the years, I have come to understand that myths are another way to keep women silent, ashamed, and embarrassed of a biological function. For years as a girl, one of my biggest fears was what people would think of me if they knew I was menstruating and whether that impacted my chances of ever being seen as desirable. A lot of young girls are told to stay away from boys when they are menstruating because the smell of period blood is so pervasive that it will foil your chances of being considered as a good candidate for marriage. When I think back on how far I have come in my education about periods, I realise that there is still a lot to disprove about these period myths and a lot of room to empower people, women & girls as well as to create allies in men who are fathers, brothers, husbands and partners. It is first important for our collective knowledge as a society to know that one’s worth, ability and contribution in any setting should not be tied to their potential to marry or their ability to bear children. Secondly, when we think of blood, research shows that blood is odourless and so the idea that menstrual blood is deemed to be dirty because of its origin is a notion that we as a country and the world need to do away with. Thirdly, we must understand that language and beliefs are powerful tools that anchor these taboos and myths because they are passed down from generation to generation about something that is normal and an indicator of reproductive health.

This Menstrual Hygiene Day, the Minister of Menstruation has teamed up with Salome to put an end to period misinformation and to get everyone on the same page. So, let’s look at common period myths and bust them once and for all!

  1. You must avoid exercising on your period because it will damage your uterus.

This is not true. Exercise on any normal day doesn’t pose a risk to uterine damage, why would it be different on your periods. Whilst you may feel tired and crampy, it has been medically proven that exercising on your period can boost your mood and can help ease cramps. If you are worried about leaks and flexibility there are different period products that exist (menstrual cups, tampons, reusable pads, and period underwear) to manage your period to work with the physical activity you prefer.

  1. Pain during your period is normal and you just have to get used to it.

It is important to note that some period cramping is common, but if the cramping starts to get intense and affect your ability to do daily activities such as go to work or school, then you should talk to your healthcare provider. There are options available to help you manage your period and any associated pain. Salome has a range of herbal medicinal products that aids in treating Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) a hormonal condition that affects the ovaries and hormone production, heavy menstrual bleeding and period pains. In as much as we must normalize our period experience, intense period pain should be addressed. We shouldn’t let menstruators put up with the debilitating pain.

  1. If you use a tampon, you’re no longer a virgin.

The concept of virginity is a social construct and being a virgin implies that someone has not yet been sexually active. Inserting a tampon or using a menstrual cup has nothing to do with sexual intercourse. It is perfectly safe to use a tampon even for young girls who have just started menstruating. Using a tampon for the first time may be uncomfortable but this is not ‘breaking your virginity’.

  1. Sharks will attack you on your period.

While we might be riding the ‘crimson wave’, there is no need to worry about shark attacks if a menstruator chooses to swim in the ocean whilst on their period. There is no evidence to show that sharks are attracted to menstrual blood. For hygiene purposes for yourself and fellow ocean goers it is advised that you use a tampon or menstrual cup before going into the ocean.

  1. If you touch food on your period, you will contaminate it.

There is a myth that people who menstruate cannot water plants or cook during their period because their uncleanliness will spoil the food. This myth is extremely dangerous as young boys and men will view women negatively. There is also no evidence that shows that food will spoil when in contact with someone on their monthlies. That said, we have many religious and cultural beliefs that are to be respected.

  1. If you are on your period, you are not allowed to enter places of worship.

Religion and culture are subjects to be respected. For centuries we have followed rules and customs that have not been properly unpacked for a vibrant and ever-changing society.  In 2022 many may view this myth as a form of gender inequality that limits people who menstruate from the same human right of freedom to practice religion. To be clear, girls, women and people who menstruate are not unclean. They are normal, natural and healthy. This myth is culturally controversial and a sensitive issue, but I believe that menstruators should have the freewill to choose whether they can go to places of worship and not be told by society they’re not permitted to go.

  1. Menstruation is only a girls’ or women’s issue.

Menstruation is a natural, and essential part of the reproductive cycle, roughly impacting half of the human population who already have or will experience it. Menstruation is a human rights issue, and everyone has a responsibility in ensuring that menstruation is not shrouded in secrecy and shame. Believing that menstruation is only a girls’ and women’s issue is exclusionary and seeks to cut out transgender men, and non-binary people who menstruate as well.

We’ve all come across period myths in our life. You’re not alone and you should not be ashamed for believing them. In South Africa, a lot of menstruators still believe these myths:

  • Walking barefoot on cold floors often results in more intense period pains.
  • Wash your sanitary pad clean so no one uses your blood to curse you.
  • If you wear another menstruators pants, you’ll inherit their period pains.

The bottom line is period taboos are misinformation or #fakenews as a way to hold menstruators in the dark ages. These menstrual myths still exist all over the world today and they need to be busted. Awareness and education are necessary to empower young girls, women and people who menstruate everywhere. This is important to create a period positive world where we can all believe that periods are natural and not shameful.

Signed, your Minister!

Salome Menstrual Pain

Managing menstrual pain & discomfort

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