Destigmatizing menstruation in the mountains

3 Mins read

It’s no secret that people who menstruate have to push through decades of stigma just to talk about their experiences or to receive the support they may need.

This especially comes into play in the outdoors and during sports, and this is for two main reasons: one being that the outdoorsy community is very much centred around the cisgender male body, and the second being that there are usually fewer facilities or opportunities for people to take care of their menstrual needs outdoors or in sports.

On top of that, there is also a lot of stigma to deal with when talking about menstruation as it has historically been considered a “dirty” or “taboo” subject and is often ignored by those who don’t experience it.

The lack of conversations about menstruation in the outdoors is what inspired the University of Edinburgh’s Mountaineering Society to have its first “Menstruation in the Mountains” talk in 2022.

The night was designed to bring down the stigma surrounding what should be a common topic, and to inspire women as well as anyone else who menstruates to go confidently into the outdoors. After the success of the first event, the talk was held again in January of 2023.

A person wearing a large backpacking backpack stands to the side while admiring a large mountain range.
Maggie Foa looks up at the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming after backpacking for three days to reach the Cirque [Sophie Patrick]

Third year student and member of the University of Edinburgh Mountaineering Society Maggie Foa attended the talk and felt that “it was a great way to get together and discuss managing your period in the outdoors.”

Maggie has been a lover of the outdoors for her whole life and was excited for the opportunity to discuss this topic as well as learn more about it since menstruation is seldom discussed in outdoor circles.

“The outdoors is a very male-dominated industry classically and a lot of the standards and best practices in teaching outdoor education are based on people assigned male at birth and their needs in the outdoor industry,” Maggie said. Because of this, talks like the one in Edinburgh are critical not only to deal with social stigma but also for health and safety reasons.

“A lot of times, women and other people who menstruate’s issues are somewhat overlooked in the teaching and developing of best practices, so it was quite cool to have this talk and get to hear everyone’s tips dealing with their period in the mountains.”

The speakers at this talk were women who love spending time in the outdoors or playing sports and each had their own unique story as well as advice on how to manage your period outside when it may not be ideal or at all convenient. Stories ranged from funny anecdotes about getting your first period to how to work with your hormone cycle, not against it.

Despite the focus of the night being on those who menstruate, a fair amount of people who don’t menstruate turned up to the talk as well to learn.

Three women hike in the rain up a steep and rockly slope.
Three women hike through the pouring rain up Helvellyn in the Lake District [Kirstie McIntosh]

“I feel like the talk also provided a chance for a lot of the people in our mountaineering society who don’t menstruate to learn about how to support people who do menstruate that they may be outdoors with,” Maggie said.

Those who attended were given tips on how to be the most helpful to people who menstruate, such as carrying both pads and tampons on a trip, or making sure to point out restrooms at the beginning and end of an adventure. Being aware of basic knowledge about periods can make a big difference in making someone feel comfortable enough to come to you if they need help, both in the outdoors and in normal life.

Although not all people who menstruate are women, and not all women menstruate, there was also a focus on female empowerment at the talk. The female speakers encouraged women to support one another and discussed “the confidence gap” and how it can apply to female representation in the outdoors.

“I thought it was really great to see such a big turnout,” Maggie said, “and I learned lots of interesting things that I’ll take back to my outdoor experiences”

Talks like this one put on by the University of Edinburgh’s Mountaineering society are critical for breaking down stigma around periods and raising awareness for how to best help those you are outside with.

Featured image by Janie Egan.

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