Globally, every month around 2 milliard people get their period. Yes, menstruation is very common indeed. But is it also a normal conversation topic? Certainly not: 55% of boys think menstruation is dirty and 37% think it should be kept secret. These are some of the results of the Bloedeerlijk (which translates as: Bloody Honest) research by Plan International, which asked 4,127 boys and men (15-24 years old) from Brazil, Indonesia, Uganda and the Netherlands what they think about periods.
The results of this research clearly show how the menstrual taboo is deeply ingrained in society, no matter the country. This attitude has serious consequences for the chances and wellbeing of girls and women. That’s why May 28 is MH Day (originally Menstrual Hygiene Day, but nowadays better known as Menstrual Health Day).
Some numbers: 38% of boys associate menstruation with ‘disgusting’
- Boys associate menstruation with ‘dirty’ (55%), ’embarrassing’ (31%) and ‘disgusting’ (38%), but also with ‘natural’ (95%) and ‘healthy’ (85%).
- 37% of the boys believe menstruation should be kept secret because it’s a private matter for girls and women.
- Almost a quarter of all boys (23%) say they haven’t received any information (at all) about menstruation.
- Over two thirds (70%) of boys say they’ve heard boys or male teachers make unfriendly or negative comments about menstruation; in the Netherlands, 25% of those comments were made by male teachers.
- Buying sanitary pads or holding them in their hand when walking to the toilets is embarrassing for girls, say respectively 29% and 41% of the boys and men.
- Over half of the Dutch boys (54%) has never bought any sanitary pads or tampons.
- A big group of Indonesian boys and men think girls and women can’t go to school/work (58%) or visit a mosque (73%) when on their period.
- 55% of the Ugandan boys and men believe a girl should marry after her menarche.
- 92% of the boys and men want to normalise menstruation. By providing better education at school (72%), having talks at home with both parents (69%) and via the media (64%).
Menstruation is also a man’s business
Regular Period! Magazine readers know that millions of girls miss school for a couple of days every month. Because they don’t have enough sanitary supplies or because they’re seen as impure and thus aren’t allowed to participate in public life. Also at work, women call in sick every month, often without giving a reason. Women who suffer from serious complaints, such as heavy cramps, tiredness or heavy blood loss, often wait until they really can’t go on anymore before seeking medical help. These things happen all over the world, also in the Netherlands and the UK, and they maintain gender inequality. That’s why menstruation is also a man’s business. Unfortunately, these men tend to treat this part of the reproductive cycle with little respect. No matter where they live.
Menstrual Health & Hygiene expert Mascha Singeling from Plan International: ‘The Bloody Honest research illustrates that in the four countries boys have similar opinions about menstruation, the difference being that in a country like Uganda the consequences for girls are more radical. For example when a girl is considered officially a woman after menarche, in Uganda this means she’s ready for marriage and children. Boys say they want to break the taboo, but they subconsciously contribute to the preservation of discriminating standards. It’s often boys or male teachers who make negative comments when girls have a period leak at school. And not all fathers consider sanitary pads an important expense.’
‘In all countries, boys have a similar view on menstruation’
Where Plan International is providing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), they also work towards making menstruation a normal topic of conversation and taking away the shame. Boys and men are actively involved in these projects, because they play – as the Bloody Honest research shows – an important role in breaking the taboos and stigmas. Plays, among other things, are used to educate girls, boys, teachers and parents about menstruation and to show them how to manage it hygienically. Boys and girls also learn how to make washable sanitary pads. Together with (inter)national and local authorities, Plan lobbies to make menstrual education a fixed part of the curriculum.
Contrary to what you might think, the Netherlands doesn’t lead the way when it comes to menstrual knowledge. The Bloody Honest research reveals that only 79% of Dutch boys know that menstruation is the shedding of the uterus; compared with 97% of boys in Brazil, 90% in Indonesia and 93% in Uganda. Of the Dutch and Brazilian boys, 45% understand that hygiene is an important part of menstrual health; in Indonesia this is 53% and in Uganda 92%. Only 15% of Dutch boys know what the premenstrual syndrome is; Uganda scores much higher with 47%.
The Netherlands scores pretty low on menstrual knowledge
Looking at menstrual knowledge, the Netherlands scores pretty low compared to the other three countries. Period poverty and shame is also common in the western world. This was already shown by earlier research from Plan, the Bloody Serious research from 2019, among thousand Dutch girls and women. More than half of the respondents said menstrual products were too expensive, almost half said she felt dirty on her period, a quarter didn’t talk about being on her period with others, a third felt uncomfortable talking about it, a fifth didn’t openly discuss periods with her family and 40% had missed school or work because of her menstruation. Almost 9% of the Dutch girls who participated in Plan’s research said she sometimes didn’t have enough money to buy pads or tampons.
All things considered, there’s a lot that needs to be done to improve menstrual health management, no matter what country you live in.For more information about the Bloody Honest and the Bloody Serious research, take a look at Plan’s website.
Period! is an independent, online magazine about all aspects of menstruation. Period! is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you’re suffering from medical complaints, always visit your doctor or GP. Editorial articles can contain affiliate links. Sponsored collaborations can be found in the category Spotlight. Do you have any questions? Check our Contact page.