Period: Cultures and Menstruation
By Manuela Diaz
How you experience your period, and the conversations that spin around menstruation are all very tightly bound to your own culture — whether we like it or not. For example, living in North America if you are to get your period and you wanted to go to the beach that day, you can easily purchase a box of tampons from the nearest grocery store.
Although commonly found in western societies, this menstrual product is a rare sight in the Philippines. When interviewing our interviewee of the week, Beatrice Carandang a University of Toronto student originally from the Philippines, she shared with us that “it is impossible to find a tampon in the Philippines and if you ever do, the prices are outrageous”. This seems to be related to the myth, common in multiple Asian countries, that tampons are often associated with the destruction of the hymen or with the removal of a person’s virginity. “I mean that’s why tampons have been so unsuccessful in the Philippines because using a tampon means taking your virginity and that’s not something you should be doing — losing your virginity”. The Philippines is a Catholic — Christian dominated country due to the Spanish colonization. There is no conclusive evidence that tampons remove the hymen, however, the stigma of tampons seems to be heavily linked with the stigma around virginity and sexual relations in the Philippines.
Bea emphasizes that some of these problems may stem from a lack of education, she describes, “ young females in the national school system don’t always have health classes or sex ed”.
Even though in 2012, the Philippines passed a Reproductive Health Act through which they integrated sex and menstrual education into public school curriculums, it was faced with heavy criticism and opposition from the Catholic Church and schools that implement a curriculum based on Catholicism. 81% of the country considers themselves as Catholics, therefore, it largely influences sex education implementation across the country. This lack of education affects the conversations young females engage in as Bea shares:
“Anything menstruation related let alone sex is TMI in Fillipino culture. Growing up in Asia I realized, comparatively greater importance is placed on the gender norms emphasized by the media that gender conforming folks must and often do conform too. This further perpetuates the lack of conversation about these subjects because talking about menstruation, menstrual products, or anything related to the female body is shamed upon in the Philippines, especially if a man is involved in the conversation.”
Should these conversations be normalized and why/how?
“Definitely, in my culture menstruation is still taboo, unfortunately. However, we know that it’s not a condition, it’s a part of having a female reproductive system, and by not normalizing conversation we are problematizing it.”
She ended with a comment, “menstruation is part of the functioning female body why shouldn’t conversations about periods be normalized when it is a normal bodily function”
We hope that these conversations and insight about what conversation around menstruation is like in different parts of the world, and it inspires you to think about how your culture has changed your views or your conversations around it. Ask your friends and colleagues how these conversations differ in their experience or in their families’. If you want to stay updated on any upcoming events or what’s next with Ruth, subscribe to our newsletter! Or, if you have a story to share, please do not hesitate to reach out to us and book a time for an interview HERE! Thank you for reading! Don’t forget to wash your hands often and stay safe!
Source: Philippines in Figures : 2014 Archived July 28, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Philippine Statistics Authority.