Blogger, marathoner and musician Kiran Gandhi made headlines recently for her choice to "free bleed," i.e. use no feminine hygiene product, while running the London Marathon on her period.
"I RAN THE WHOLE MARATHON WITH MY PERIOD BLOOD RUNNING DOWN MY LEGS," she wrote on her blog.
How to describe my first reaction? Well, it went something like this:
Because THAT SOUNDS SO INCREDIBLY FREAKING UNCOMFORTABLE. But moving on.
Gandhi has been quoted by various sources as saying that her goal was twofold: To break the stigma against menstruation and "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."
Indeed, poor women in third world countries, and in our own country, are forced to use dirty rags, leaves, or other materials to stanch the menstrual flow. This can lead to urogenital infection and reproductive issues, and can have an effect on maternal mortality.
Young girls are missing school during their menses because they don't have sanitary napkins, and are too embarrassed to attend class.
And think about how much money you spend on your period each month. Are you buying tampons, liners, pads? Maybe Midol or some other over-the-counter drug to alleviate cramps? For homeless women or women living in poverty, those items are a luxury, sometimes an untenable one.
But neither Gandhi's blog, nor any of the many, many articles I've read about her free-bleed run, provided any sort of information about how to actually help with the very real problem that many women don't have access to proper feminine hygiene supplies.
Noble though Gandhi's intentions might have been, there are more effective (and let's be honest, less sensationalistic) solutions:
1) Start a tampon/pad/Midol drive at your school, office, place of worship, etc. to provide homeless women, or women in third world countries, with the necessary. Donate through an organization or create care packages and distribute them directly to women you see on the street. (Sure, include candy. Or chocolate.)
2) Check out No Taboo, Period, an organization started by University of Maryland students to promote awareness about the need for access to sanitary products. According to the group's Facebook page, they donate feminine hygiene products to the ladies at N Street Village.
4) Offer to give "period education" sessions to pre-pubescent girls at places like Community of Hope, Girls Inc, or Girls on the Run. If you are going to do this, however, please make sure you've educated yourself in order to give accurate information. I used to be, essentially, a sex ed peer counselor, and yes, I got questions like "does using a tampon mean I'm not a virgin?" and "can I get pregnant from using a tampon?"
In an interview with Cosmo, Gandhi she didn't know if it was safe to run with a tampon in or if she would hurt herself. I'm not a runner. Long-distance ladies, any insights?
5) Just act like having a period is a normal thing, because it is. If you feel like crap and have to miss work or ditch plans, say "I have cramps," not "I have a headache." Ask a female coworker, "Hey, do you have a tampon?" in the same tone as you'd ask, "Hey, do you have an aspirin?"
6) Donate to an organization like Afripads, which not only provides reusable menstrual kits to girls in Africa, but provides employment opportunities for women.
About the Author: Holly Leber is the editorial director at the Daily Do Good. She will never run a marathon. She tries to keep a spare tampon in her bag in case there's a fellow woman in need.