When Tracy L was younger, she learned a trick that many girls subconsciously learn throughout puberty – how to hide their period pads in the fold of their clothes. But then it raised a nagging question that would stay with her for years: if periods are literally signs of a healthy female body, why are they seen as something so embarrassing?
Menstruation is something all women can relate to, and yet not widely informed about. Tracy, one of the leaders of the Women’s Health and Menstruation (WHM) Service ECA (Extra Curricular Activity), shared how she had once asked some boys how often they thought girls changed their pads. Guesses ensued, and one even curiously asked, “Can’t girls hold their period in like pee?”
This ended up being the push they needed to start this project. “If even students in our privileged environment, both boys and girls, lack knowledge on menstruation, then what about those who can’t even afford the basic sanitary needs?”
↑ Haruna travelled to a rural village in Yunnan last summer to conduct an in-person lesson for the children there. While there, she made this short film to raise awareness of period poverty and shaming.
Period Poverty and the goals of WHM
(Women’s Health and Menstruation Service ECA)
WHM was founded by Tracy and members of the class of 2023 cohort before Haruna joined in to later expand it as an ECA in the last academic year.
In the pursuit of gender equality and the promotion of women's health, the two have embraced the challenge to lead the Women's Health and Menstruation (WHM) service ECA. Together with their members, the group aims to tackle the problem of period poverty, period stigma, and a lack of sex education- one rural school at a time.
Shared Tracy, “Though it seems small, I believe we can use our voices and actions to impact both our local community and the wider world.”
And that they have. Haruna noted, “From period-related posters in the female bathrooms in DCB to both online and in-person lectures across China to spread awareness about Period Poverty and Period Stigma, our team has conducted classes for thousands of rural girls since 2020, donating over 60,000 pads. They even post reflections and summaries of their lessons on their WeChat official account, “月来月好WHM”.
She added, “WHM relies on various strategies to raise funds and increase awareness. These strategies include leveraging social media platforms like WeChat, Instagram and Little Red Book to share their stories and engage with a wider audience.” They also participate in school events to raise funds and spread awareness about their cause.
The duo has been using Tencent Charity (腾讯公益), an online fundraising platform anyone can donate to. Their funds are managed by a formal, registered organisation with whom they collaborate with. Over the years the group has raised over 80,000 RMB, largely made possible when Tencent featured their project on their annual donation day (9 September- also called 99公益日), raising not only funds but also awareness of their mission.
The Project's Focus and the Role of Education
Especially in rural areas, the societal taboos associated with menstruation often result in younger women being left with little to no access to the related health education that they need. This is why WHM focuses not only on donations but also on education to alleviate period stigma.
During their first session of the WHM ECA meeting, Tracy shared the devastating impacts of period poverty and stigmatization. “44% of girls don’t know what menstruation is when they experience their first period, and for some women in rural areas, the chances of getting a tract infection is 70% higher when girls don't use proper sanitary products. In some parts of India and Africa, up to 60% of the girls don't have sanitary pads.”
Statistically speaking, on average, girls experience menstruation around 2,500 days in their lives, which means spending an estimated 20,000 RMB on sanitary pads alone. “And as you can imagine, low-income earners don't have the financial ability to purchase these products, despite it being a monthly necessity.”
Thus, to bridge the knowledge gap, WHM conducts educational sessions on menstruation. These sessions aim to empower young girls with essential information about menstruation, reduce shame and stigma, and ensure they have access to the necessary resources. But most importantly, the girls aim to spread awareness that menstruation isn’t something to be ashamed of and that it’s part of a normal and healthy part of life.
The Impact of Donations
In addition to education, WHM focuses on making menstrual supplies available to those in need. Their efforts have gone beyond their community and extended to regions such as Jiangxi, Guizhou and Yunnan and have even reached Ethiopia in Africa. To date, they have already donated menstrual supplies to approximately 30,000 girls.
WHM provides care packs that include not only menstrual products but also items like underwear and heating packs to alleviate discomfort during menstruation. By offering comprehensive care packs, the recipients feel more prepared, confident, and supported during their periods.
Moving Forward, and How You Can Help
WHM is passionate about expanding this project to reach even more schools and regions. Their ambitious goals include finding new schools, making additional donations, and increasing the network of supporters. They are also exploring opportunities for international expansion, emphasizing the importance of fostering a global community that addresses period poverty and stigma.
Ultimately, when standing in front of insurmountable global issues like period shaming and poverty, it is important for us to recognize that big changes are fuelled by small steps. You can help WHM through donations, which directly translates to better access and resources in underprivileged communities. Or, even simpler, we can all start by offering our female peers a little more support during their period and open up the conversation- it is only through collective effort that we can bring periods out of hushed whispers and hidden pads, so that women of all age can feel a little less shame, and a little more warmth.