How The Stigma Around Vaginal Bleeding Puts Women At Risk

Photographed by Ashley Armitage.
The stigma surrounding vaginal bleeding is still very real — and it's putting our health at risk.
According to a study published in the BMJ Journal, the expectation for us to discreetly manage any vaginal bleeding issues, namely in low and middle-income countries, is contributing to health issues for women (though it's important to note that women aren't the only ones who get periods or other kinds of bleeding).
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The study doesn't just focus on menstruation — it also discusses other causes, such as bleeding after childbirth or during miscarriage, or bleeding due to any medical issues such as endometriosis.
To navigate these experiences, researchers said, women need accurate information to be able to differentiate between healthy spotting and abnormal bleeding. Not getting that information can result in a "marked silence" that leads to greater health risks.
The researchers looked at women and girls in what they deemed low to middle-income countries (Nigeria, Senegal, and Mali) and found that there were significant numbers of women who experience vaginal bleeding related to reproductive health conditions. However, having to manage such issues in the face of stigma as well as in situations where women have low resources for care has proven to be detrimental to women's health.
In higher income countries, the researchers said, the stigma still exists (after all, we're still sneaking tampons to the bathroom), but women generally have better access to healthcare resources and support if they're not sure what their bleeding means. Not to mention, women in higher income countries also likely have access to safe, clean bathrooms to manage their symptoms.
Overall, the researchers emphasized the need for support for those experiencing vaginal bleeding in low and middle-income countries as well as the need for adequate access to resources and supplies to help them manage.
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"A first step is breaking the silence around the topic of vaginal bleeding, from the global to the local level, so that girls and women are able to seek out the healthcare and management required with confidence and support," the study read.
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