Periods are a totally normal thing that happen every month to most girls who have attained puberty. Despite being normal, periods are still considered a taboo for women in sport.
When Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui admitted that her period prevented her from performing at her best during the recent Rio Olympics, several fans back home said they didn’t even understand that a woman could swim during her period. While this is untrue, it should be actively encouraged when it comes to convince sports teachers that you cannot get in the pool once you hit puberty, it’s kind of gross that period taboos have left so many of us in the dark about menstruation.
According to the UN Assistant Secretary – General and UN Deputy Executive Director, Lakshmi Puri, “Sport has huge potential to empower women and girls.”
Sport is a powerful tool that can be used to bring social cohesion, and contribute towards social, economic and environmental sustainability development.
Lakshmi states that, sports has been evidently seen to empower women and girls in various countries through giving a voice to the marginalized group and as a tool to tear down gender inequality, barriers and discrimination.
By engaging in sport; women and girls defy the misperception that they are weak beings and by doing so, demonstrate – leadership and strategic thinking. There is good evidence that participation in sports, help in a major way in breaking-down gender stereotypes, improve self-esteem and contribute to the development of leadership skills.
A poll found out that 58 percent of women have felt a sense of embarrassment simply because they were on their period. Forty-two percent of women have experienced period-shaming, with one in five being made to have these feelings because of comments made by a male friend.
According to a research conducted by ‘Betty for Schools’ in their #ActivePeriod Campaign, out of 2000 women, 46% have used periods as an excuse to skip P.E classes, for the fear of leaking, sanitary towels being visible/slipping around during the exercises or too tired/in pain to take part.
This is largely contributed to the pervading social taboos around periods, with 73% of the interviewed women/girls, stating that period shame was one of the main barriers to girls participating in sports in schools.
Sam Quek MBE, England and GB Hockey player and a passionate advocate of the need to overcome taboos when it comes to periods. Sam said:
“For me, sport and exercise are a huge part of life. I find it really sad that periods – something all women experience for a big part of our lives – are creating a barrier to sport for so many.”
We have to work to break down taboos around periods – this starts with elite sportswomen being more open and honest, with schools creating the environment where girls can talk about the changes the bodies are going through, and education that empowers us all to know and understand our bodies better”.
Girls who are better educated about periods and how it affects their bodies are less likely to be reluctant to take part in sports.
“We live in a world where we can’t talk about something that is so normal, and the reason that we can’t talk about it is because we are prioritizing the comfort of men, and we have created a construct that’s so disgusting around something so normal. The ramifications of that are so problematic for women’s equality in our society that we must talk about it – the time is now.” – Kiran Gandhi
Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy EY, attests based on conducted research, that 94% of the most senior women in business, have played sports in their lives. Sports equip individuals with leadership skills, resilience, perseverance, confidence, discipline and failure not being an option-skills that can’t be trained into people.
It is critical for parents to understand and know that, for one’s daughter there is a tremendous correlation between her success in sports as a child and her future success in life. However, when young girls reach puberty, majority are forced to drop out of sport due to societal pressure and bias – it is important to understand the ability of our daughters to succeed outside of sport later in life, and encourage them to stay in the game and excel.
“Sports has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” – Nelson Mandela
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, “ …Sports can provide girls with social connections and a refuge from violence from their homes, and help them understand their bodies and build confidence and the ability to speak up, particularly during adolescence, when the pressure to conform to traditionally “feminine” stereotypes leads many girls to abandon sport entirely.”
Stereotypes, discriminatory social norms and a lack of representation remain some of the most pervasive barriers to gender equality around the world.