Child development Non governmental Organisation Plan International launched campaign for period emojis; electronic message icons or smileys used to express emotions; to represent menstruation on mobile devices and therefore demystify and normalize the natural cycle in women.

Social Attitudes

At least 800 million women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 experience their period at any given time.The discomfort, awkwardness, embarrassment and confusion of menstruating especially when it first occurs can be a quite traumatic experience, particularly for girls in the developing world due to limited access to sanitary towels and tampons not to mention cultural implications associated with it. That the average woman will spend thousands of days of her life experiencing negative emotions around a natural phenomenon imposed by the social setting in 2017 is absurd.

The taboo behind menstruation is so ingrained in the social setting that there are over 5,000 euphemisms worldwide including: Crimson Wave, Mother Nature, Lady Time, Aunt Flow, Time of the Month, On the Rag, Shark Week, Red Tide, Code Red, Monthly Friend, Having the Painters In and Bloody Mary, according to a 2016 survey.

When it comes to menstrual hygiene, you would think our society was stuck in the 1950s.

Read: South Africa: KwaZulu Natal Province Launches Free Sanitary Towels to Schoolgirls

Just last year in Nepal, a 15-year-old girl suffocated to death after being forced to sleep in a shed while menstruating. She was ostracized from her community because of superstitions around menstruation.

Plan International’s research abroad says 90 percent of girls in rural Ghana feel ashamed during their periods, 51percent in Ethiopia miss one to four days of school per month and 28 percent of girls don’t go to school when they have their period. In India, only one in 10 girls and women has access to sanitary products.

Right now in South Sudan, girls caught up in the famine crisis face horrific sanitary conditions when they’re on their period. Plan International staff working in South Sudan report girls have no access to pads and are forced to use leaves or hide in the forest because they’re afraid of being shamed. This puts them at great risk of abduction, rape, illness and trafficking.

In a different recently commissioned research Plan International asked 2,000 women aged 18 to 34 about discussing their period.

Seven out of 10 said they felt uncomfortable talking about their period with their male co-workers. And only one in three women felt happy to speak about it to their female bosses. At school, almost half reported feeling ashamed to speak to their female teachers and 75% said they wouldn’t discuss it with their male teachers.

Changing attitudes

Slowly, the attitudes are beginning to change – with the introduction of menstrual leave being touted for Italy – but progress is not fast enough.

This is precisely why Plan International UK and Plan Australia have launched a campaign to introduce a period emoji.

Women in Meru, Kenya, examining Menstrual Cups. Photo: SuSanA Secretariat/Flickr

The aim is to break the taboo associated with menstruation that affects girls and women especially in many societies where it is considered “dirty” forcing many girls to remain quiet about reproduction and sexual health.

Read: Period sex: a taboo that is not an exact science

“Girls and women have told us about the embarrassment and shame they suffer when it’s their period. We need to make it easier to talk about something that is part of everyday life,” Plan International’s campaigns manager, Danny Vannucchi, told Reuters.

“We’re not saying that an emoji would solve all of these problems, but it will start a conversation, and raise awareness of the challenges women and girls face worldwide – and that can only be a good thing,” Vannucchi added.

They launched five emoji designs last week for the public to make a choice which will be distributed across mobile devices. In a matter of days, over 15,000 people voted for their preferred “period emoji”, Plan International said.

Afripads, handed out in a kit that includes a carrying case, are credited with making girls feel comfortable coming to school when they have their period.
Image courtesy of AFRIpad, via NPR.org

The emoji designs include a sanitary towel, a diagram of a uterus, a pair of period pants, a calendar and blood droplets.

Emojis have become a part of our modern vocabulary. More than 92 percent of the online population use emojis every day to communicate between friends and across cultures. And Plan UK’s research showed that almost half (45 percent) of women surveyed would happily use a period emoji, particularly to communicate with their partners

Of course, we’re not saying that an emoji will solve all of the overarching problems women face. But if it helps drive conversation, then that’s a start. Changing perceptions around periods is challenging, but creating a period emoji helps women and girls to talk about menstruation more freely.

So the question is would you use a period emoji?

For men would it become just another way to tout and visually mansplain PMS or an easier way of asking the women in their lives if they need a little extra TLC? For women the possibilities are endless. It will be a discrete way of telling your boss why you cannot come in to work for women suffering from severe cramps and or endometriosis, letting a friend know why you can’t make a scheduled date or even just to chit chat with your girlfriends on intimate things.

Let’s hope the period emoji become a reality and one we can all embrace with open arms.