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Chelsea Clinton: How Menstruation and Breastfeeding Stigmas ‘Punish Women’

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Chelsea Clinton is advancing the conversation on menstruation and breastfeeding, two women’s issues that are still met with stigmatization around the world.

The former first daughter says in a piece penned for Well and Good that although these topics are often perceived as uncomfortable to speak about, they are also “ones that have to be brought into the open and addressed.”

“Unfortunately, breastfeeding and menstruation remain fraught with cultural stigma, both here in the US and around the globe,” she writes. “Far too many girls and boys alike are socialized to think these are shameful topics—only to be discussed with our family and doctors, and we’re certainly not supposed to let anyone else see us dealing with them.”

Aside from many feeling that menstruation is something to be ashamed of or kept quiet —  Clinton, 37, recalls bringing her entire backpack into the bathroom so she wouldn’t have to carry a tampon or pad — women and girls around the world don’t have access to sanitary protection during their periods.

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“We need to talk about menstruation more and support menstruating girls and women of all ages to erase the stigma and the access barriers that too often go hand-in-hand with ‘that time of the month,’ ” she wrote.

Clinton points out that women spend an average of 3,000 days with their periods, and girls in Africa miss school during these days because they don’t have access to feminine products or clean water.

“Menstruation shouldn’t stop education—and with access to safe period products and clean water, girls would have one less barrier to gender equality,” she said. “And this isn’t just a problem in the developing world. In America, tampons and pads aren’t covered by food stamps despite the fact that sanitary products are among the most requested items at food pantries and homeless shelters.”

The Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation continues, “Indeed, pads and tampons are often an unaffordable luxury for families living in poverty—even though they’re not a luxury, they’re a necessity. Food stamps should cover sanitary products, and all states should recognize them as ‘necessities’ (like food and medicine) and stop taxing them as luxury items.”

The mother of two, who is currently breastfeeding her 10-month old son Aidan, also noted the issues women face when feeding their babies. Clinton recalled utilizing everything from breastfeeding/pumping rooms at Columbia University where she teaches, to “outdoors hidden behind a building.”

She also remembered times where she leaked, noting that she was lucky enough to afford disposable pads so nobody else noticed.

“Many women cannot afford to buy or rent a pump, have inflexible work schedules, have to go back to work after just days or weeks of giving birth, and have no access to even a shred of privacy in which to pump at work,” she said. “All of these challenges, coupled with the cultural stigma around breastfeeding (or pumping) in public, often lead women to choose to feed supplementary formulas or to stop breastfeeding their children altogether—even when they want to continue breastfeeding.”

Clinton denounced the stigmatization of breastfeeding, believing that all women should be able to feed their children in the way they feel is best.

“We need to change the conversation, the practices, and the policies that too often punish women for being women—and prevent mothers from being the moms they want to be for their kids,” she concluded. “We shouldn’t be embarrassed by breastfeeding or menstruation, but we should be ashamed that women are suffering in silence because too many people refuse to speak out.”