Ending stigma and shame over sanitary pads

By Dhruti Shah
BBC News, Washington

  • Published
Diane ShaibuImage source, Diane Shaibu
Image caption,
Diane Shaibu's thoughts on menstruation and stigmas around sanitary pads have resonated globally

What's the link between patriarchy, illegal drugs and periods?

As Diane Shaibu of Prince George's County, Maryland, was heading to her bathroom to deal with her menstrual needs, she felt she was back in middle school with a sense of shame over the sanitary pads she was holding in her hands.

She took to Twitter expecting her friends would appreciate her thought that "smuggling pads to the bathroom like it's some sort of illegal drug gotta be the worst adaptation to patriarchy".

Not only did her friends agree, the thought resonated so much that women and transgender people all over the world shared their experiences of "pad shame".

And with about 60,000 retweets and more than 200,000 likes so far, it's fair to say Shaibu's shower thoughts are now viral.

The 24-year-old, who has been menstruating for a decade, told the BBC she was astonished by the reaction.

"As the feelings of shame came through me, I was wondering why I still felt those emotions. Having a period is normal but yet I feel this way every single month."

Image source, @skinnydyane/Twitter
Image caption,
Diane didn't think her tweet would gain so much attention

She said that even at home she would keep her sanitary pads in her bedroom and away from communal places so her family wouldn't have to be exposed to it.

'Underground club'

She said it felt as though she was doing something illegal and was part of an underground club and it felt strange to acknowledge that.

"You learn all these manoeuvres to hide what you are doing - I'd stuff my pads in my pocket or I'd do this secret move where I'd stick it under my armpit as I walked over to the bathroom."

It turned out she wasn't alone.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Reetah Boyce, from Denver, was among those who also had to come up with innovative ways to hide the fact that she was menstruating.

She responded to Shaibu's tweet saying how awkward she would feel buying pads - especially when the person at the till was male. She would buy additional items so as to draw away attention from the fact she was on her period.

"I always find myself sneaking feminine products out of my bag into my pocket to head to the bathroom," Boyce told the BBC. "I work in a start-up environment where no-one has an office and there are dudes sitting directly next to me who can clearly see what I'm doing. On one hand, I know I shouldn't feel ashamed, but on the other hand sometimes I just don't like people knowing my business."

And Tereza tweeted: "My father literally has a fit over anything period related. It's 'disgusting' and he doesn't want to know about it.... One would think he'd get over it after raising three daughters but nope, not at all."

She added that the women in her family don't take her father's issues with it seriously anymore.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Shaibu said the conversations her tweet had sparked had made her extremely happy - especially as people from a wide spectrum of backgrounds chose to give their experiences.

Some mentioned that the problem affected the transgender community too. One Twitter user, who identified as trans, said they still would try to discreetly "shove my supplies into my pocket and skedaddle" too.

Many of those who responded discussed school days when they would have to figure out how to leave their classrooms to go to the toilet to change their sanitary pads or tampons.

And there were those who said they had thrown off any stigma or shame.

@logicalkitty tweeted: "I have a bag at work I keep them in and I boldly walk with the bag to the bathroom. My boss has learned what the bag means and he has responded with spontaneous chocolate on more than one occasion."

The 20-year-old, who is from the UK, said she responded to the tweet to show that it was possible to have a positive attitude towards the issue.

Shaibu said she had received death threats, but was glad she had started the discussion.

"We're the ones that are having to deal with our periods and all the challenges around this, when what we are going through is normal.

"And then there are these cisgender men especially who feel that by us talking about our experiences and sharing our stories, their egos are getting bruised."

"This has been a healthy conversation to have and I'm ready to liberate and tear away from any sense of shame."