We can all agree that we have seen enough of the photos of Kiran Gandhi’s bloody crotch at the 2015 London Marathon. In case you missed it, Gandhi ran the race while having her period and not wearing a pad or tampon. This Harvard grad who just got her MBA is also a drummer in a couple of different bands, a public speaker and activist for a bunch of feminist causes. She’s 26 years old and has her whole adult life ahead of her, and she’s going to have to do something really really incredible in order to become known for something besides deliberately menstruating on her pants.
As a runner, I agree with some of her sentiment. In the marathon, the runner’s comfort comes first. Had I been surprised by my period in the middle of a 26.2 mile race, I might have done the same thing. Training for a marathon takes so much of your time and energy. Your life revolves around your running schedule. You don’t eat like a normal person anymore because you start to see food as “fuel” for your next run. While training, you visualize how you’re going to push through all of those miles and make up ways to scare/inspire yourself away from stopping or quitting.
You do this for months. Why on earth would something as insignificant as your period ruin the whole thing?
Kiran describes her relatively privileged menstrual life in her interview with Cosmopolitan. She says that she often skipped her classes at Harvard when she got her period. And although she trained for a whole year for the London Marathon, her life is comfortable and convenient enough to schedule long runs around her menstrual cycle. Most marathon runners know that training for any/all conditions is essential. Anyone who can opt out of life at a whim because of a regular, predictable monthly occurrence has to have it made. I’m a tiny bit jealous.
When marathon eve arrived along with her period, Kiran admits that she lacked basic knowledge and familiarity with her body so much so that she had no idea how to go about running a marathon while menstruating. Although she states that she trained for the marathon for an entire year, somehow she never scheduled a run during her period. This inspired her to run the race while allowing her period blood to run down her legs for 26.2 miles. She says she did it because her comfort should come first, oh and to fight oppression and to draw light to those who don’t have access to menstrual hygiene solutions and those who (oh the horror!) have to hide the fact that they’re menstruating at work or while, you know, doing normal life stuff. (File that last issue in the same box as the #freethenipple nonsense and call me when you are ready to catch bigger fish to fry.)
So while Kiran managed to furrow the brows of even the most dedicated feminists, she opened a conversation. She authored a few articles and blogs about the atrocity of how the menstrual cycle prevents women in India from getting an education once they reach puberty. With no access to pads and tampons and a lack of education about this normal, healthy monthly occurrence, many women born into poverty remain there.
This is happening worldwide. Millions of brilliant and talented girls and women stay home and remain dependent on family and spouses because of their period. And while many still can’t relate to why Kiran dedicated her free bleeding run to those (in developed nations) who have to “hide it away like it doesn’t exist,” she made many people wonder how we could help girls and women all over the world have the same privilege.
If the despairing thought of millions of impoverished girls facing the inevitable limitation that their menstrual cycle will impose yields a call to action in your gut, then you may want to become a volunteer for Days for Girls International. (Yes, you can donate money too.) This non-profit organization intends to provide every girl and woman in the world with ready feasible access to quality sustainable hygiene & health education by 2022. Kits consisting of soap, underwear, panties, and hand made cloth liners and panty shields that can be washed in very little water are made, collected and distributed to women and girls in need everywhere.
They are also building in-country program local production responses that empower local leadership, supply and economic stimulus. Ruby Cup has partnered with Days for Girls, and while cultural taboos often prevent women from choosing a menstrual cup over traditional cloth pads, we can hope that education and awareness will change this.
And while undeveloped countries might be the main focus to some, Distributing Dignity collects and distributes pads, tampons, and bras to women in need in the United States. Distributing Dignity was founded in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in 2012 after realizing that donations of gently used business attire for women in need could be coupled with pads and tampons. If you’d like to help, consider hosting a party to collect pads, tampons, and new bras for women in the US.
In addition to non-profits, there are corporations working to change the ongoing issue of a lack of menstrual hygiene solutions:
Evofem, maker of Instead Softcup, has partnered with WomanCare Global on Project Dignity, a cause marketing initiative that will help keep girls in school and women at work. For every box of Softcup purchased in the United States, a woman or girl in the developing world will receive a reusable Softcup, helping to address an unmet need for safe and hygienic sanitary protection.
There’s more to activism than typing a hashtag, “raising awareness” or using your own privilege by drawing attention to yourself. To make real changes in this world, we need to be people who do the work, not only by pointing to a problem, but materializing the solution to the problem. If you want change, you have to go and get it.
Let’s hope Kiran Gandhi’s attempt to raise awareness by soiling her capris does not end there. She started the conversation. The only way to make sure every girl and woman is not limited to a life of poverty because of her menstrual cycle is to take action.