The first menstruation. How do I talk to my children about menstruation? – Psychology

Does such behavior occur?

– They occur very often in the world and on a rather serious scale. UNICEF reports that 500 million people worldwide are affected by menstrual poverty. Among others, in Nepal, where the practice of chhaupadi still exists today. It is a tradition that menstruating women are considered unclean and for the duration of their periods they are confined to menstrual huts located away from human settlements. They live there alone in inhuman conditions. Therefore, it is not uncommon for them to die when attacked by wild animals or to choke on the smoke from lighting a fire at night for warmth. It’s a huge subject related to all sorts of superstitions and beliefs. In Poland, social exclusion of menstruating people takes a different form, but thanks to the 2020 Kulczyk Foundation report, we know that it exists and affects half a million Polish women.

What is the form and what groups does it affect?

– It is experienced both by adolescent girls who have a difficult family situation, and by women from abusive relationships or in a difficult economic situation. The age range is huge. We are contacted by people looking for support in terms of education and help with products, ie basic hygiene measures. Schoolgirls, students, and also quite adult women do not know where to look for help, because as little girls they did not receive it at school or at home.

How to explain such a lack of knowledge of physiology in the 21st century in central Europe, in a country where education is compulsory?

– It’s because of popular myths. We are at an impasse – as children we don’t hear about menstruation from parents, so as parents we don’t tell our children about it either. Most often due to their own ignorance, lack of skills or willingness to talk honestly with the child. But Poland is no exception. An example that fairly accurately reflects the widespread awareness of menstruation is the anecdotal situation that occurred at the United States Aeronautics and Space Agency. When Sally Ride, America’s first astronaut, embarked on an extraterrestrial mission, NASA employees asked her if one hundred tampons would be enough for her six-day stay in space. As you can see, even the nation’s most outstanding minds, as NASA engineers are commonly known in the United States, had no understanding of female physiology.

You took action even before the menstrual poverty report was published. How did you realize that it is a social problem also in Poland?

– We came across this term in English in 2019 and started looking for data on Poland. We found out what the problem looks like in France, UK. Great Britain, Germany, but this topic did not exist in Polish public discourse. We didn’t want to believe, so we started our own research. Since we started as a social project, we relied on collecting individual experiences from various places of support – mainly old people’s homes and homes for single mothers. It turned out that this problem also exists in our country, it is covered only with silence. We were approached by people who told us very personal stories of how, often having the last zlotys in their wallets, they had to decide whether to buy something to eat for dinner or sanitary napkins. Choosing the first option meant that instead of sanitary napkins from the pharmacy, they had to make them at home from old rags. More and more people came to see us every day. In the end, we were sure that these were not individual problems, but a phenomenon with a social dimension.

How did you decide to fight it?

– We are carrying out several parallel projects. In 2020, we launched the “Menstruation action in your school” program. Within this framework, we now operate with nearly 600 educational institutions. We equip learners with generally available menstrual means and try to provide knowledge about menstruation itself. Schools cooperating with us in the pilot edition of the program received boxes for sanitary napkins and tampons to be placed in all bathrooms. We regularly replenish the stock of hygiene products. So far, more than 100,000 people have benefited from this form of assistance. learners. The currently recommended solution is to equip toilets – not just those in schools – with menstrual agent dispensers. Two years of trying to survive menstruation with dignity has shown us how important it is to have free access to menstrual supplies. The Polish market does not offer many solutions to meet this need more easily. This is how the idea of ​​the Heyday dispensers was born.

With regard to temporary assistance points, these are generally accessible lockers placed in public spaces, most often in offices, MOPS, libraries or inside buildings, for example in galleries , public institutions, theaters. These are cabinets that work similarly to food divisions. Their slogan is: “Take it if you need it, leave it if you can”. This form of help can be used by anyone in need. Our volunteers take care of them. The third project I mentioned is Pad Sharing. This is our most recent project. As part of this action, we connect people in need with donors. We ensure complete anonymity – the donor orders a shipment from Rossmann through our foundation. A person in need can pick up such a parcel in person at a selected branch of the network.

In the padsharing, we tried to help all the people who are in the country. That’s why we have created an application form for people in need in English, Russian and Ukrainian. These are our three main projects, but we also engage in various types of one-off initiatives, we are invited to events, we organize various actions and meetings ourselves.

How exactly can you contact each other for material or educational help?

– Just go to our website www.akcjamenstruacja.pl and in the “Projects” tab find the one that interests us: “Menstruation in your school”, “Periodic help point” or “Padsharing”. If you have any questions, you can contact us via the application form, via Facebook or Instagram or by e-mail at the following address: kontakt@akcjamenstruacja.pl.

After two years of activity, how do you assess the need for awareness-raising actions in schools?

– This is best evidenced by data from the Kulczyk Foundation report. They reveal that almost half of young people do not talk about their period until their first period at home or at school. These people don’t know what to expect. They often learn from fingertip videos on the internet or advertisements. Sometimes with disastrous results. A teenage girl wrote to us that when a friend of hers at school got her period for the first time and saw that her blood wasn’t blue like you see in adverts, she was shocked. Terrified that something was wrong with her, she wanted to go to the hospital immediately.

As half of teenage girls before their first period did not talk about it at home, perhaps an information campaign should be organized for parents on how they should talk about these subjects with their children?

– We provide information and educational material to parents on our social networks. I would also like to take this opportunity to recommend two fantastic books to them. The first is “Menstruation. I want to know” by Anna Salvi and Cristina Torrón. It’s a great helper for parents who aren’t sure about talking to their kids about puberty or menstruation. The second position is “Moonka. A guide to changes in the body, menstruation and body positivity” by Barbara Pietruszczak. This is a girls guide to taming puberty. The boys version is called Your Body-Positive Maturation .

Does your experience show that in Poland, for girls, menstruation is always an embarrassing subject?

– The 2020 report states that 37% of people care that no one sees that they go to the bathroom with some sort of hygiene measure, 33% make sure no one notices that they are on their period and 41%. households in Poland do not talk about menstruation. Talking about her is considered a shameful subject. I think that thanks to the proliferation of all body-positive content, sex education and the taming of menstruation through various actions and initiatives, the change of mentality on menstruation is taking place slowly. Research in 2023 could show how much that thinking has changed over the three years. We’re learning that changes are afoot from people thanking us for getting used to this. They say that thanks to us they feel better together and have the courage to go to the gynecologist. Many young people are very afraid of the first visit of this type and often – with disastrous consequences for their health – postpone it.

In your opinion, what should be done so that the subject of menstruation is no longer a taboo in society and so that girls are not embarrassed by it?

– It is always said that the most important thing is to talk openly and naturally about menstruation. It is a process that directly affects half of the population. There is not the slightest reason to be ashamed of him. It should be taught in school. We try to tame this subject, but it will be even better if we tame it together as a company. Therefore, we encourage everyone to get involved in our activities, whether that means signing up to volunteer, sharing educational content on social media, or buying distributors for your business. Each type of commitment is worth its weight in gold.

Read also : Medieval gynecologists. Teens who masturbate call people sinners and refer them to a psychiatrist

Julia Kaffka – activist, psychology student at SWPS University. Co-founder of the Akcja Menstruacja Foundation, the first Polish organization to fight menstrual poverty, and of the start-up Heyday producing dispensers of menstrual products

Małgorzata Mierżyńska – journalist, editor, translator, cooperates with the magazine “Newsweek Psychologia”

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