Whatever or whoever’s arrived, say welcome.
I have been fascinated by the commonality of euphemisms for the word ‘period’. From Japan to Italy, periods are conceptualised as a person or an object that is arriving or on its way. In life, when there are painters in the stairway or a guest or casually a few little red elves, we would say, welcome. My question is; why don’t we do the same with our periods?
My childhood in Malaysia exposed me to the beautiful juxtaposition of Asian and Western cultures which without a doubt, has influenced my perceptions of menstruation.
I can vividly remember having the most empowering and welcoming experience receiving my first period with my Welsh mother.
But I will never forget leaving the house to go to school where pads were exchanged very tactfully as if contraband and girls checked the back of each other skirts as if a dance routine,
we became very good dancers.
I also spent many a weekend with the legend that is my Popo, my grandmother. I remember periods being whispered about as she would wrap used pads in layers of Chinese newspaper for disposal and cook up a storm with soups that would definitely put hairs on your chest and give your ovaries a warm hug.
As a researcher, my cultures are my biggest strengths.
I’ve watched the world go by through a dual lens where I have learnt to see, respect and try to understand both sides of the coin. In terms of menstruation, I’ve learnt that what might be normal and clean to my mother is something that is very dirty and taboo to my grandmother.
From the start of time, people who menstruate have carried out practices and traditions rooted deep in culture that work for them- this is something that needs to be acknowledged. There is a function to everything humans do, including how they choose to experience their periods. We need to be more receptive and educated on how multicultural Australia feels most comfortable experiencing periods to tackle stigma from its core.
The boundaries of menstruation in society are constantly being pushed through research and advocacy with the most recent topic of interest being menstrual policies and leave. I’m currently researching people’s attitudes towards paid menstrual leave and workplace accommodations to menstruation. Paid menstrual leave sounds exactly like what it is- a paid leave for those who menstruate to access if they are unable to work safely and comfortably.
Menstrual leave originated after World War I in Russia and was then implemented in Japan, South Korea and Indonesia after World War II. The original intention of the leave was to boost national fertility after population loss from the war but is also rooted in beliefs that women needed to rest from strenuous work to protect their health.
Since the 1920s, people have been using menstrual leave around the world but only in the past few years have Australian companies like FutureSuper and Modibodi provided employees with menstrual leave via the Victorian Women’s Trust menstrual policies. With more individual companies accommodating to menstruation in Australia and with my homeland of Malaysia currently conducting a national survey on people’s likelihood to use the leave, it has got me thinking, is this leave dated back from 100 years ago what the modern world is needing?
can we learn from our past?
For too long a time in Australia, national policies and legal decisions have been made without consultation with the main stakeholders. In this case, people who menstruate deserve the opportunity to have their voices and needs heard. It is also extremely important for efforts to be put into understanding how the different subcultures in Australia experience periods, so all menstrual needs get met and no communities get left behind in period poverty. We need to start seeing both sides of the coin and must advance together so as a country,
we can say welcome together.
Please check the Chalice Foundation’s Facebook and Instagram pages to see a link to my study. Once the study is concluded, I’ll be back on the Leak with another blog post addressing the findings of my research.
Amy Wong (she/her)
Amy Wong is a British-Malaysian menstrual health researcher. In 2017, Amy moved from Malaysia to Kaurna country in South Australia, to pursue her studies in psychology. She is currently studying her Master of Psychology (Health) at the University of Adelaide where her interests lie in menstrual health and cross-cultural psychology. Amy is also passionate about law reform and decolonising psychology.