Hear Jaspreet about tackling menstruation stigma and ending the taboo once and for all.
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"We need to change the language around periods"
Spoken word artist Jaspreet Kaur knows the power of language better than most…and she’s using it to tackle stigma.
Also known as “Behind the Netra”, Jaspreet is also a history teacher and award-winning writer working to change the way we speak about menstrual health.
The less we share, the less we’ll know when something’s not right - so it’s essential to get comfortable chatting to our friends and future generations.
With our host Dr Gemma Newman, Jaspreet shares her experience with overcoming period-related shame and making friends with her body.
What we talk about in the episode...
Today, Kaur gives workshops in schools, and she’s an ambassador for charity Binti International – fighting period poverty by giving out menstrual products in countries including the UK.
So what would she like everyone to be educated on?
She says it’s important boys also learn about women’s bodies. ‘Everybody needs to be aware of the menstruation process. They might not be going through it, but how is that an excuse to not be empathetic? You can’t ignore something just because it’s not your body.’
Fortunately, things are improving. Since 2020, the national curriculum has included education about periods for all genders in primary and secondary school. 'It was a really significant thing to happen.’
In the UK, it’s estimated 137,000 girls miss school annually due to a lack of access to menstrual products. Up to 2 million have missed part of a day due to their period, with worries about leaking an issue for a third.
Jaspreet says: ‘We’re also starting to see access to free menstrual products in colleges and schools. It shouldn’t be something you struggle to get your hands on.’
Another leap forward was 2015, ‘the year of the period’, when runner Kiran Gandhi free-bled during the London Marathon. ‘For a lot of people, it was jarring – the first time they’d seen period blood. That changed a lot of perceptions – it’s just blood. People watch horror movies but don’t freak out.’
Around the same time, Instagram was forced into a turnaround after it took down a photo of poet Rupi Kaur showing blood on her jogging bottoms. In 2019, we finally got a ‘period’ emoji.
In Jaspreet’s own household, periods are an open topic, compared to the secrecy of her childhood. ‘My hubby knows which pads I use so if he’s out at the shops he’ll pick them up for me.’
Even in 2022, Jaspreet says, 'periods are seen as something dirty, unclean and unhygienic and that adds to this stigma.
‘How we talk about periods is one of the first places we can tackle this.”
Too often, the words we use unthinkingly are rooted in shame. ‘Menstrual products are commonly called sanitary products and that’s what I called them for a number of years until the founder of Binti said, “We don’t use the word sanitary anymore, because it gives this idea of periods being unclean, so we prefer to use menstrual products.”’
She points out a key day marking menstrual health is Menstrual Hygiene Day: again implying periods are unhygienic. ‘I’d rather it was called Menstrual Health Day.’
She’d also like more funding for research. ‘I do wonder if men had to menstruate, would there be more conversations, more research?
‘When I tried to research menstruation, specifically for women of colour, there was hardly anything: is there different levels of pain, different types of product they use? I’d love to see growth here in years to come.’
‘My mornings are something I cherish. I wake up early and go for a nice long dog walk with our big doggie: a Spanish mastiff. It’s a lovely way to start the day – out in nature, no phones, no digital devices, nothing else distracting me and my hubby.
‘Then I get back and take some time to meditate. I’ve always been quite a spiritual person, but it’s something I’ve only really implemented in last couple of years. Taking time to meditate every morning definitely makes me more mindful, present and grateful. I also do a bit of yoga, and some stretching. Then I get on with my day.’
‘I’ve been trying to drink more water – carrying my water bottle and filling it up in the day. I have a busy lifestyle and there can be whole days when I haven’t drunk any, which is ridiculous. I feel more energised and have less headaches. It’s definitely made a difference.’
‘Wellness for me is both physical and mental. At one time I felt it was something only physical. That’d definitely changed over the years, putting my mental health at the forefront.”
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‘Make friends with your body’
So what takeaway advice does Jaspreet have for us all?
Know your body
‘My message to all women and girls out there is start listening to and understanding your body – make friends with it. Take time to get to know it.’
Track your periods
Thanks to period-tracking apps (pen and paper work too): ‘I learned so much about my cycle. Why I feel certain ways at certain times of the month – why I had headaches or was more constipated, so needed more fibre in my diet. Learning those things made me feels so liberated and empowered – understanding what my body is doing.’
‘Whether it’s poetry, music or dance or another form of writing, creative expression can be a powerful tool to support your mental wellbeing,’ she says.
Teenage Jaspreet was anxious and depressed – writing poetry and journalling helped her through her mental health struggles. ‘Since age 13, I’ve used writing as a way to let out everything I’m bottling up. I literally felt the pain, confusion and worry released from my body.’
Eventually, it led to her career as a poet (where she performs as Behind the Netra).
In a stressful post-pandemic world, she believes creativity is more important than ever. ‘It can be incredibly powerful when you can’t access other forms of support. And it’s something you can do straight away.’
Find out more about Jaspreet on instagram.com/behindthenetra and on her website behindthenetra.com