PEI

New period emoji has women talking about menstruation

A new emoji expected to be released in March has some women on the Island looking forward to a new means of communicating about their periods online.

'We're just like everybody else — we need to discuss what's going on with our bodies'

Plan International UK — a non-profit organization which works to advance rights and equality for girls — lobbied for the blood drop emoji for two years. (Plan International)

A new emoji expected to be released in March has some women on the Island looking forward to a new means of communicating about their periods online.

Unicode, which distributes emojis across mobile devices, said it will include the period emoji illustrated as a drop of blood alongside 58 other new symbols. Some of the other emojis will include mixed-race couples as well as representation for the hearing impaired.

It's what our bodies are designed to do and we shouldn't feel shameful about it.— Jillian Kilfoil

"How we design things is really important. The fact that an emoji is designed that reinforces women's experiences — it does help to break through some of that stigma," said Jillian Kilfoil, executive director at Women's Network P.E.I.

Overcoming stigma

Menstruation is still a taboo subject in many countries and cultures. In Nepal, for example, the centuries-old Hindu practice of chhaupadi, where women are banished from their homes during their periods, has led to recent deaths.

Plan International UK — a non-profit organization which works to advance rights and equality for girls — lobbied for the creation of the blood drop emoji for about two years.

'The fact that an emoji is designed that reinforces women's experiences,' says Jillian Kilfoil. (Submitted by Jillian Kilfoil)

Some women are hoping the emoji will help people overcome the stigma around menstruation.

"We're human beings, we're just like everybody else. We need to discuss what's going on with our bodies," said Jessica Davis, who works as a pharmacist's assistant at a Murphy's Pharmacy in Charlottetown.

"Just like we need to discuss what goes on with our brothers and our dads and husbands."

Davis sees women on a daily basis who come into the pharmacy looking for information, advice and pain relief for their periods, she said.

Speaking openly

She only became comfortable with speaking openly about her period in recent years. Before then, she wasn't even comfortable chatting about it with her mother. Growing up and entering a career in healthcare helped show her she didn't need to feel uncomfortable. 

Now, she said, "I'll ask her questions about her own experiences and stuff like that."

Some of the other emojis will include mixed-race couples as well as representation for the hearing impaired. (Unicode)

New developments like the blood drop emoji could help young girls — like Davis' three nieces — grow up feeling comfortable in discussing their health, she said. 

However, keeping menstruation under wraps is still too common among women and girls in 2019, Kilfoil said.

"Girls are often hiding their tampons and their pads," she said. "Clearly this is something that happens for a lot of people every month and it's what our bodies are designed to do and we shouldn't feel shameful about it."

More work to be done

The emoji is a good sign but there is still work to be done to take down barriers facing women because of their periods, Kilfoil said.

There is more than just the blood part of having a period.— Jessica Davis

"I think it would be great to go further and look at the tampon tax and look at the financial barriers here in Canada and across the globe for people trying to afford menstrual products," Kilfoil said.

Some women are wondering if the period emoji goes far enough, if it runs the risk of oversimplifying menstruation or even misses the mark entirely.

"There is more than just the blood part of having a period," Davis said. 

Although, when it comes to representation, the use of the colour red for the emoji is at least a sign of progress, Kilfoil said.

"We do see a lot of misrepresentation with what menstruation looks like, we see that with tampon and pad commercials for generations and the blue liquid that always gets used," she said.

Better understanding

Illustrating something as complex as menstruation in something like an emoji can be difficult, Kilfoil said, but she is encouraged by the emoji and hopes it will lead to better understanding of how menstruation works and how it affects women's health.

 It's what our bodies are designed to do and we shouldn't feel shameful about it.— Jillian   Kilfoil

"There's been some research that says for some women menstruation is equivalent pain — every month — to a heart attack. And women are still expected to go to work during that time, there's no extra sick time given," she said.

A better understanding of menstruation could also lead to wider knowledge of other women's health issues including painful reproductive disorders like endometriosis, Kilfoil said.

But for now, she said, an emoji is a good step forward.

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About the Author

Sam Juric

Web Writer

Sam Juric is a journalist with CBC P.E.I. and can be reached at samantha.juric@cbc.ca.