Two Women Fighting Menstrual Stigma In Hong Kong By Encouraging Conversation & Education

How it is 2017 and menstrual stigma is STILL a thing, is beyond us. But as long as it exists, we will continue to write about it and raise awareness in the hope it can help dismantle taboos about something entirely normal in a woman’s body. In Hong Kong, a country well-known as a cosmopolitan destination boasting plenty of modern aspects to its culture, there are still many traditional, even regressive ideas when it comes to women’s bodies.

An article on the Hong Kong Free Press explains how the Chinese culture views a menstrual cycle as something that “weakens” the female body, disrupting the internal yin-yang balance. Menstrual blood is viewed in a similar way to an unborn fetus, carrying themes of bad luck, danger and death with it. Because of this, women who have their periods are not allowed to participate in Chinese New Year events, weddings and funerals.

If you’re wondering how a woman is *checked* whether the “passes the menstruating test” at these functions, we’re not quite sure but we’d love to find out…

Visiting ancestors graves and entering a religious shrine is also forbidden. Additionally, having sex and doing laundry are also a no-no on your period according to this tradition. Good news on not having to do at least one household chore during that time of the month, ladies!

Two women are fighting back against the cultural barriers in the hope they an educate more women and change attitudes with their advocacy. Both featured in the Hong Kong Free Press article, the first is Miki So who works at an intimate lifestyle store called Sally Coco. With her focus on female empowerment, along with fostering a sex positive environment, she also educates female customers on menstrual hygiene through the sale of menstrual cups.

Thousands of menstrual cups have been sold at the store since they became available, and Miki relishes the opportunity to talk to her female customers about general menstrual hygiene and health, as there is a general lack of knowledge about their bodes.

“I remember sex education in secondary school being quite terrible. So I can’t really blame them,” she said, explaining how the teachers would often rush through the part about periods. Miki has the chance to talk with customers about the female body and about sex when they purchase a cup from the store.

She also believes sharing with women about the ecological impact of using menstrual cups over tampons and pads is another way to empower them with knowledge.

“To provide more choices means giving women more freedom to choose, and therefore more power over their bodies,” she said.

Miki’s own experience in school, being shamed by a nurse for getting a period stain on her uniform s a vivid memory for her and has become part of the reason she advocates for education and dismantling social stigma.

“That’s disgusting! Don’t you know how to take care of yourself?” is what the nurse told her when she came to her for help.

“I was really embarrassed to have the stain seen by my male classmates. That nurse made me feel so guilty about something I had no control over,” she recalled.

The second activist profiled is University student Joyce Fung, who started the MenstruAtion social media movement. Her mission is to encourage open dialog and spread more education about menstruation among women. The 22-year-old’s family is the kind who abides by traditions such as not allowing menstruating women to visit ancestors graves or walk near a shrine, something Joyce started to question as she grew older.

“As a kid, I simply accepted it, but when I grew up, I started to question this rule. Why are girls with healthy, functional bodies considered dirtier than sweaty boys?” she recalls wondering.

As part of her ongoing research for MenstruAction, she too started to learn about more eco-conscious menstrual hygiene products from online videos, such as reusable cloth pads which didn’t contain toxic bleaches and dyes like regular pads.

“Honestly, my first thought was that it was gross,. I couldn’t stomach the idea of having bloody pads in my bag,” she said, adding how she eventually was able to convince some of her peers about the benefits of alternative methods.

One person she has not managed to convince or challenge on their beliefs is her mom, who won’t allow Joyce to wash her reusable pads in the laundry.

“I tried to challenge her beliefs, and asked if clothes with nosebleed stains are allowed. She said nosebleeds are okay, so I guess to her, menstrual blood is especially gross, she said.

But through her MenstruAction project she actually is making a difference in a number of women by sharing important information about their bodies they may not have access to elsewhere.

“A lot of people don’t realize that menstruation is a sign of a healthy female body, and should be admired. Through this page, I have managed to spread this message, and I hope to continue doing so,” she said.

We need more activists like Joyce and Miki working to empower other women about their bodies, especially when they are still being stigmatized and shamed elsewhere in society. Access to important information, and educating people about something very normal is going to be key in changing attitudes.

 

 

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