Charity calls for 'period emoji' to address taboo of menstruation

by Lin Taylor | @linnytayls | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 30 May 2017 13:11 GMT

Bags of feminine products for the "Girls Helping Girls Period" charity are seen in South Orange, New Jersey in this 2016 archive photo. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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"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"

By Lin Taylor

LONDON, May 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A 'period emoji' on mobile devices could help break the taboo of menstruation, according to an international child rights group, which is pushing for an icon to help highlight the stigma that girls experience when they menstruate.

Menstruation is still taboo in many countries around the world, where it's often considered embarrassing or shameful. Women refer to periods using some 5,000 euphemisms, such as "on the rag" and "Bloody Mary", a 2016 survey of 90,000 people in 190 countries found.

"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," said Danny Vannucchi, Plan International's campaigns manager.

While there are symbols for avocado, a telescope, and even a unicorn, menstruation is not represented as an 'emoji', a small icon on smartphones and tablets commonly used to express emotions or physical things.

But that is something Plan International wants to change. The charity last week launched five 'period emojis' and invited the public to vote for their preferred icon. As of Monday, more than 15,000 people had voted, it said.

The winning design will be submitted to coding consortium Unicode for consideration, which distributes emojis across mobile devices.

"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 told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

He said issues related to reproduction and the sexual health of girls are often considered "dirty", so girls are forced to keep quiet about menstruation which adds to the taboo.

"It's completely normal, but in many settings there is still a false belief that menstruation is dirty and shameful," he said.

"These taboos can have a damaging impact on the lives of girls and adolescents, from missing school because they face bullying or unfair treatment, to causing infections due to a lack of menstrual hygiene education and products."

On any given day more than 800 million women between 15 and 49 have their period. However, globally 1.25 billion women do not have access to a toilet during menstruation, according to the charity WaterAid.

The United Nations estimates that due to a lack of facilities, one in 10 girls in Africa will miss school during their period and will eventually drop out of school as a result.

(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, global land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, women's rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)