Unfortunately, almost none of us are exempt from the taboo that still surrounds menstruation. Seventeen percent of women who participated in a survey with the International Women's Health Coalition and the health app Clue said they have missed various events in their lives because they are "afraid of someone finding out" they have their period. And worldwide, many girls are often encouraged to stay home from school rather than attend schools with unhygienic bathroom facilities; in fact, the New York Times reports that a shocking 23 percent of Indian girls drop out of school once they reach puberty in large part for this very reason.
Luckily, there are some badass menstruation activists out there who are fighting back against period stigma. All across the globe, they're changing the way we talk about vaginas and bleeding, and they're encouraging us to open up about our own experiences. To find out more about them, Bustle spoke with Lana Friesen, founder and organizer of the Blood Cycle Conference, a brand-new event coming up in September that will be the first of its kind. It's a conference dedicated to women and their menstrual health, where people from all around the world will come together to discuss the issues menstruating individuals face on the regular. A big part of planning this conference for Friessen was familiarizing herself with the women out there who are making a big splash in the menstrual health and taboo conversation. She told Bustle about the women who have inspired her the most, and I added a few picks of my own to the list.
Here are seven menstrual activists you should know about.
1. Jen Lewis
You may have heard of Jen Lewis and her project, "Beauty in Blood." Instead of shying away from our own period blood, like society tells us we should, Lewis has embraced her body's natural fluids and chosen to make stunning pieces of art out of it. Her goal is to normalize the menstruation process. "One day, when I had some blood on my fingers after emptying my cup, I started to wonder about why society framed up menstruation as something disgusting," she told the Huffington Post.
The blood you see in every piece is her own, poured from her menstrual cup into the water, where you can witness the unique flow and free movement of the liquid. She started by taking shots in the bathroom with the help of her husband Rob Lewis, and they later moved to creating the photos in a fish tank. While there have been some less-than-enthusiastic responses to her work, Lewis said there has been a flood of positive support, proving that there is a demand for this kind of honest art focused on the reality of having a period.
2. Miki Agrawal
When Miki Agrawal launched THINX in January 2014, she wanted to make an anti-microbial, leak-resistant period panty that actually looked and felt like a pair of underwear an everyday woman would want to wear — and she did just that. Now, the company's ads are everywhere on NYC subways, breaking the period taboo every day. Even better, THINX is working with and donates to a Ugandan NGO called AFRIpads, which hands out reusable, washable pads to women in developing countries who are in desperate need of menstrual hygiene products.
Agrawal has also spoken up strongly about the fact that there are thousands of women and girls around the world who cannot make it to work or school because of the lack of access they have to things like tampons and pads. In fact, the United Nations reports that only 43 percent of girls in developing nations attend school, partly due to the fact that, without the necessary products, they can't go anywhere during the week of menstruation — and Agrawal is doing more than her part to help change that.
3. Lara Briden
4. Rupi Kaur
Based in Toronto, Canada, Rupi Kaur is a poet and artist whose haunting works are focused on femininity, sexual abuse, and the menstruation taboo. Last year, she went viral when Instagram removed a picture she posted because it simply showed her menstrual blood staining her pants (they later apologized for the offense).
Kaur also recently released a book called Milk and Honey, which features her drawings as well as her original poetry. One of her pieces chips away at the heavy burden women must bear when keeping quiet about their periods: "apparently it is ungraceful of me /to mention my period in public /cause the actual biology /of my body is too real."
You can follow Kaur on Instagram (@rupikaur_), where you'll find similar prose and beautiful art celebrating our bodies and reproductive systems. Subscribe to her YouTube channel too, where you can watch her spoken word performances that highlight the everyday struggles of women in today's society.