Would you wear a badge to let your colleagues know you’re on your period?
Michi Kake, a shop that sells health products including menstrual cups and period pants, encouraged staff to don a badge featuring the cartoon character Seiri-chan, a symbol of menstruation in Japan, whenever they were on their period. Following a mixed response from the public, the store has since told the BBC it is “rethinking” the policy.
But in a world where period stigma is rife, would the same concept outside of a women’s health store – say, in your standard office or on a construction site – make things better or worse for the menstruating workforce?
We know that completing a regular working day isn’t easy for everyone who has periods, particularly those experiencing the debilitating effect of conditions including endometriosis.
Research published in the BMJ in September found 13.8% of women who have periods had missed work or school because of it – but most felt unable to be honest about the reason. Among those who’d called in sick, only 20.1% told their employer or school that their absence was due to menstrual complaints.
More openness about periods seems “desirable”, the researchers concluded, considering 67.7% of the participants wished they had greater flexibility in their tasks and working hours during their periods.
So, is a period badge the answer? No, says Emma Barnett, journalist and author of the book Period. “I don’t think this helps,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“Women don’t need a badge. They need the voice to vocalise any issues their periods present. They also need others – loved ones and colleagues – to rid themselves of their unnecessary and ill-founded squeamishness about a perfectly normal bodily process.”
And Natalie Byrne, author of the inclusive guidebook Period agrees. “I think this is a type of othering and segregating,” she says. “Why do we need a badge? We have been contributing to society while being our periods for millennia already.”
“Women don’t need a badge. They need the voice to vocalise any issues their periods present”
Others on Twitter echoed Barnett and Byrne’s concerns, with one person arguing that badges could even fuel stigma, making comments like “she’s in a bad mood because she’s on her period” the norm.
But Christina Sylvester, 25, from Manchester, has endometriosis and says anything that helps raise awareness of the condition – be it badges or HR initiatives – is welcome. She believes talking about periods is one step towards ensuring women with endometriosis receive support like they would for any other medical condition.
“It’s the first I’m hearing of this women’s health store in Japan and I’m all for it,” she tells HuffPost UK. “I can’t put into words how debilitating the condition is. I think workplaces need to understand [endometriosis] is not ‘just a period’, it’s intense emotional stress, awful bowel symptoms, nausea, and even the inability to sit, lay down or eat anything.”
Perhaps instead of badges, we need to look at the bigger picture, says Byrne, and create a “society that listens and values equality”.
“The stigma and the shame isn’t about the person who’s menstruating, it’s about the government, the businesses, the schools and therefore the society, that create a system in which period shame is perpetuated,” she says.
“I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing one in public and I wrote a bloody book on periods.”
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