August 30, 2023
International Women’s Day has come and gone, as has Women in Trades Day, Women in Construction Week, and Menstrual Hygiene Day. How many of your favourite trade companies have turned their spotlight to women’s issues?
Menstruation is emblematic of a wider, gendered problem. It represents the innate biological issues that come with womanhood, most of which are ignored or disregarded by society as a whole.
In a practical sense, periods act as yet another barrier for women who want to enter into skilled trades. Period pain can be so severe that one researcher concluded that it can be as painful as having a heart attack. Pain aside, women have to worry about the practicalities of managing heavy blood flow and finding adequate toilets and sanitary bins while they are on job sites. Then there's PMS/PMDD, headaches, lethargy, nausea, brain fog - shall we go on? It's a lot to deal with when doing your job.
With all the difficulties inherent in being a tradie who menstruates, you would expect it to be a hot topic. So, why can we only hear crickets?
The trade industry isn’t known for its gender diversity with only 5% of tradespeople working in the UK being female. With less women in the fold, the onus is on men to create an inclusive and welcoming environment. Unfortunately, research shows that a large chunk of people in the UK have a distorted perception of the gender divide.
The public at large has an unrealistic view of gender equality. In 2015, researchers analysed the overestimation of women’s representation in medicine. They concluded that ‘medical professionals tended to overestimate women’s true representation in several different areas of medicine [...] and in various roles’ which ‘predicted a decreased willingness to support gender-based initiatives.’
On top of a distorted view of gender representation in professional roles, some people reject the idea that sexism exists altogether.
In 2022, the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership found that 15% of Britons think gender equality doesn’t exist, with more men (19%) holding this view than women (11%). Even worse, 21% of Britons think that feminism does more harm than good, with 29% of male respondents and 13% of female respondents agreeing.
Because tradeswomen are in the minority, it’s easy to joke about their lived reality. One institution surveyed 1,000 women who work on sites and found that 22% have been subjected to period jokes in the workplace. This doesn’t just stop at work, as a tradeswomen soon found out.
A london based plumber posted in her local plumbing Facebook group to start a conversation about working whilst menstruating. ‘It’s a real struggle for me doing boilers on period weeks, sometimes working in houses with no water/toilets’, she wrote.
‘Ever thought about an office job,’ one person replied. Another wrote ‘identify as a man on those days, problem solved.’ These, along with the recommendation to put ‘a bit of jet blue up there to plug it’, show the sort of ridicule that tradeswomen are subject to.
Despite all our modern amenities and advanced technology, society is still in the dark-ages when it comes to women’s health. Periods are one of the many taboos that stop women from reaching their full potential in the trade industry and beyond.
The secrecy and shame around periods starts at home, but it continues at school. A survey of secondary school teachers found that only 53% work in schools that teach students about menstrual health. Of those almost 420 teachers, only 144 reported a maximum of two lessons in one academic year.
This taboo has far reaching consequences for young girls. Nearly two million girls (64%) aged between 14 - 21 have missed a half day or full day of school because of their period. And since periods are not recognised as a legitimate concern, there is no help offered to them.
What gaps do young girls have in their education? And how does menstruation impact career prospects? These are the sorts of questions that we need to ask.
How can we expect swatches of society to invest in one of the more taboo aspects of the female experience? The trade industry might be silent on periods (and only marginally more active in the more media-friendly aspects of female empowerment) but they are just following suit with the other industries in the UK.
For menstruation to become a mainstream topic in the trade industry, it has to be part of the social landscape. We need to start from the ground up. By teaching girls and boys about menstrual health from an early age, we can spark long-lasting conversations. Period.
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