The WNBL’s “Fighting Period Poverty” Round Wants Women To Be Proud Of Their Period

The fourth round of the WNBL will raise awareness and support for those who can’t access period products, while shining a spotlight on why women should feel proud of their period.

Growing up, periods are often discussed with tones heavy in shame and embarrassment. Perhaps due to learning about the menstrual cycle in the classroom, with cheeks burning at the knowledge you either had or hadn’t gotten yours before your peers, or from the sense of dread that would fall on those who were surprised by the first day of their period while in school uniform, these feelings have been inculcated in many of us and can be hard to shake. But while our menstrual cycle is simply a natural part of life – one that all of us experience – for many it presents a significant challenge due to limited access to period products. 

Period poverty is a global issue, one that sees many around the world experience isolation and shame around their period due to lack of access to period products, or a shortage of resources. It can stop women from going to school, to work, or playing sports and other activities that they love. According to a study from 2017, nearly 1 in 5 girls had missed school due to a lack of access to period products, making the issue an urgent crisis facing women. 

It’s this that the WNBL is now looking to address, with its fourth round marking the inaugural “Fighting Period Poverty” week, which seeks to raise awareness and support for those who can’t access period products. As Bendigo Spirit’s Anneli Maley explained to the ABC, the issue is an important one. “We’ve been taught as young kids, as young women, to be embarrassed of having a period,” she told ABC Sport. 

“When you bleed through your shorts, it’s like, ‘Oh my god, how embarrassing.’ It’s not embarrassing, it just happens. Like sometimes I get scratches on my knees, and I bleed through my pants.”

anneli maley

Maley added, “Not all women get periods, and not all people with periods identify as women. So when we talk about women prideful of their periods, it’s all genders that experience something along the lines of this. I think, especially being a female athlete, we are strong, formidable role models. And if we have the ability to exude pride in something that we’ve been told to be ashamed of, it’s only going to have a positive effect.”

The “Fighting Period Poverty” round marks a partnership between the WNBL and charity, Share the Dignity. Along with raising awareness, the partnership is one that also wants to raise money for a vending machine that dispenses free sanitary items and provide period product donation boxes at games. “Period poverty is not just a female issue, it’s a whole of the population’s issue,” said Maley. “It might directly affect people with female organs, but it also should be something that’s supported by men as well. So I think that it’s super important that we’re doing this.”

According to Share the Dignity founder and Managing Director, Rochelle Courtenay, period poverty is an issue that affects those who are homeless, victims of family and domestic violence, and low income earners. “We’ve got women who are working who cannot afford their electricity, their rent, their food bills and their fuel bills. So buying sanitary items is the last thing on their list,” Courtenay explains. 

While it’s certainly an important issue, shining a spotlight on periods through the lens of sport is also a valuable concept, as many athletes have been made to feel a sense of shame in their pursuit of excellence on the court while menstruating. Just recently, the issue came to light as Wimbledon’s female players voiced the mental and emotional toll of having to wear an all-white uniform while competing on their period, something that led to reforms in the dress-code. Now, the WNBL is showing that players can still compete at their best and be supported throughout their menstrual cycle. “It’s something that in the WNBL, we all, for the most part, have a period,” said Maley. 

“And it’s not something that we should shy away from talking about, especially when you have a lot of people that do struggle with PMS, and really bad periods, it’s good to talk about so we can learn how to manage this,” Maley added. 

As Maley suggests, the issue is one that isn’t confined to women alone, but rather needs the support of men to see genuine and widespread change. “Male coaches and male management need to be educated on what a period is and how it affects our bodies,” she said. 

Courtenay echoed such views, believing education on periods needs to start from a young age and include young boys in the conversation. “It’s so ridiculous, that we are now in 2022 and we are not educating boys and men on menstruation. Because those little boys who don’t learn about it, they become somebody’s husband, somebody’s boss, somebody’s partner, somebody’s father, and don’t have any understanding of what affects half the population monthly.”

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