Students at Calicut Medical College in India are shattering menstrual taboos in the most creative way possible: Sreya Salim and James Paul's "Happy to Bleed" period haiku contest encouraged a candid, funny, and stigma-free conversation about menstruation. In a world where periods still cause a lot of shame for many people, the poems opened up a discussion about a topic that's important to talk about. After all, it affects the health and everyday lives of approximately half the population — which totals about 375 million people, owing to the fact that the world population is roughly 7.5 billion at the moment. When we're in the dark about our periods, we're in the dark about our health — and the pressure to stay silent makes people feel feel ashamed of themselves for something that's absolutely normal and perpetuates damaging stigmas.
Salim tells Bustle via Facebook message that she wanted to do something to support the Happy To Bleed campaign, which encourages women to share photos of themselves with their pads. It was Paul who came up with the idea of using haikus. Each poem bears the hashtag "#HappyToBleed" at the bottom.
"Each of us have personally experienced the stigma. We believe that each voice of rebellion counts," Salim says. "Haiku was a platform to express our thoughts and protest."
The result is a delightful collection of poems that expose the realities of menstruating. Some are humorous, and some make powerful statements. One, for example, is about a boy who doesn't want to buy pads for his mom. "What he forgot," it reads, is that "he wouldn't have been born if she had never bled." One man wrote about seeing women at his school try to hide the blood stains on their skirts.
"Most of these men were attempting to speak about menstruation publicly for the first time in their lives. Some of the participants told me it helped them become better friends with women, because a barrier had been unblocked," Salim told The Huffington Post.
As the above haiku points out, in many areas of the world, the menstruation taboo sets women back in major areas of their lives. 30 percent of girls in Nepal — where people are actually expected to avoid social events during that time of month — have missed school during their periods, according to the organization Her Turn. This means menstrual taboos could end up impeding girls' education and careers. Nor is this specific to one country: According to the the period-tracking app Clue's "Talking About Periods" survey, 17 percent of people with periods worldwide have missed school, work, or something else important because they didn't want others to know they were menstruating.
Clue's survey also found that only 34 percent of people who get periods feel comfortable discussing them with men. Most but still not all — 86 percent, to be exact — feel comfortable discussing them with women.
The good news is that the haiku contest got students talking about menstruation out loud as well as on paper. "Once conversations started flowing freely, I found women were more comfortable speaking out," Salim told The Huffington Post. "Haiku reminds us that a small act of courage can bring about a huge change."
Hopefully, one day, we won't need a formal event to discuss menstruation. But from board games to picture books, anything that can get people talking about their sexual health without shame is helpful — especially when clever puns on the word "period" are involved.
Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Courtesy of Sreya Salim (5)