Bleeding for a cause

first_img Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram We all know women have a menstrual cycle, yet in the 21st century, periods continue to be a taboo, and for some, an almost cringe-worthy topic.Harvard MBA graduate, drummer of M.I.A and feminist Kiran Ghandi decided to challenge this notion this month when she decided to take part in a marathon to support breast cancer while on her period, and without any sanitary protection. The 26-year-old, who suffers painful periods, realised the first day of her period fell on the same day as her first marathon in London – an event she had trained for tirelessly. “I ran with blood dripping down my legs, for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn’t exist,” Ghandi explained, following her successful completion of the race. Although reactions have varied, with some cheering and many disgusted, Varvara Athanasiou-Ioannou, founder of the Food for Thought Greek Australian women’s Network, says it is clear Ghandi, who has a background in women’s studies, had a greater message in mind. “Periods are an essential monthly occurrence for women to be healthy and fertile, and yet it is not openly discussed; it is still expected to be discreet, clean, unnoticed,” Ms Athanasiou-Ioannou tells Neos Kosmos. “I recall my mum telling me that I could not go to church to take holy communion when I was menstruating, as I was not clean! It is important to discuss these issues, like we now discuss mental illness and sexual preference openly.”Athanasiou-Ioannou, a lecturer at Swinburne University, says the lack of understanding is evident in the GST charged on sanitary products, which are classified as a ‘luxury good’, while sunscreen, nicotine patches, condoms and lubricant fall under the category of ‘essential healthcare items’. The issue received media attention earlier this year, when Sydney University student Subeta Vimalarajah launched an online petition ‘Stop taxing my period’, which attracted over 37,000 signatures. When it comes to acts like Ghandi’s, perceived by some as extreme, Ms Athanasiou-Ioannou is concerned they may distance people from feminism. “We need to define what feminism is, because some people blame feminism for the ‘world’s problems’. They equate feminism only with extreme acts like this, trying to denigrate the purpose of feminism, which is equality of opportunity and choice for both men and women,” she says. “Unfortunately, feminism for many is a dirty word and I even hear many women distancing themselves from this concept.” Although women in the western world are enjoying benefits that generations before could only dream of, she says looking at the statistics, we still “have a long way to go”.“If we look at objective criteria, women still have the burden of raising the children and the house-keeping, as well as looking after their parents.”Research by the World Economic Forum to assess the gender gap in 58 countries, concluded that, “even in light of heightened international awareness of gender issues, it is a disturbing reality that no country has yet managed to eliminate the gender gap”. Countries that had made the most progress at narrowing the gap were in Scandinavia – Sweden was the stand-out – followed by New Zealand, Canada, the UK and Germany. Australia was in 10th place.According to research conducted by the Australian Institute of Company Directors regarding the appointment of women to ASX 200 boards, the figures show Australia’s position worsening. In July 2011, 68 women were appointed to ASX 200 boards, decreasing to 37 in 2013, while the figures in July this year stood at just 27.Athanasiou-Ioannou says the key to change is education, with a greater need for male role models championing the feminist movement. “More education for both men and women is needed. Feminism starts at home, with each of us playing an important role, and then schools also play a big role in educating people about the importance of equity and diversity.” Food for Thought is a not-for-profit Greek Australian Women’s Network aiming to raise awareness about the barriers and enablers to women’s issues, empowering women to succeed in their chosen spheres of life. For more information, visit read more