No more whispers on menstrual pain, stakeholders told to end stigma

Human Rights Directorate leads call to end stigma surrounding menstruation and for wider public discussion on fundamental aspect of female health

Annalise Desira
Annalise Desira

Malta’s public authorities are shining a light on the stigma of menstrual hygiene, a private aspect of women’s sexual and reproductive health which should no longer be spoken about in hushed-up tones.

Annalise Desira, the assistant director at Malta’s human rights directorate, called for a wider, public debate on menstrual health and an end to negative stereotypes that lead to gender-based discrimination.

“We can no longer treat such an issue of basic female hygiene in whispers,” Desira said in her address to the ‘End The Stigma. Period’ conference of stakeholders, which included women’s rights NGOs, medical professionals, academics and educationalists. “Why should we speak in a low voice when asking for a pad?”

“This is a subject that has to be taught to everyone,” Desira said. “This subject has to be normalised... we have to stop hiding our periods in our pockets. Speaking about something that brings about physical discomfort, should be the least thing we worry about.”

Parliamentary secretary for equality and reforms Rebecca Buttigieg said it was a pledge of the Labour administration to seek the lowest rate of VAT possible for products for menstrual health, as well as the free distribution of such products to school-age students. A pilot project on free distribution is already underway.

A discussion panel of health professionals discussed the various aspects of the stigma associated with menstruation: the use of euphemisms to speak about menstruation, a lack of proper medical advice for young women experiencing menstruation pain for the first time, absence of parental awareness, especially amongst fathers, of daughters’ physical symptoms, and the emotional and psychological effects of menstruation pain.

“Our responsibility is to see that every woman and young girl takes care of their menstrual hygiene, in full dignity. We want to eliminate the stigma associated with this natural process, which is intricately linked to sexual and reproductive health, and not to allow menstrual period to affect physical and mental health,” Buttigieg said.

“We want to raise the level of public discussion and stimulate an environment that allows women and young girls to find a safe environment in which to talk about this issue, and have easy access to these products,” Buttigieg said, speaking of women’s menstrual hygiene and care as a fundamental right.

“If we do not educate our girls about this subject, how can we expect to educate boys about these realities?”