The Period Emoji Is Here And The Two Year Battle To Get It Approved Shows Just How Much Period Stigma Still Exists

We spoke to the period pioneers at Plan International UK about why their initial proposal for period pants was too much for Unicode Consortium...


by Georgia Aspinall |

Opening up our emails this morning, a very special press release had arrived. 'Period emoji is now available on the latest iPhone update,' read the headline. 'Finally!' we wrote back to Plan International UK, who had come to Grazia's office over a year ago to discuss this very project. After two years of campaigning, asking for public support and in the end combining forces with the NHS Blood campaign to create a blood drop emoji, it was approved: there is now a blood drop emoji linked to menstruation.

'We are thrilled to see the arrival of this long-awaited blood drop emoji, which signals a real breakthrough in the fight against period stigma,' Rose Caldwell, Plan International UK’s Chief Executive told Grazia. 'Girls, women and other menstruators told us this emoji would help them talk more freely about their periods, which is why we campaigned so hard to make it a reality.'

In February 2018 though, it was a very different story. Plan International UK were locked into a stalemate with Unicode Consortium - the organisation that approves what emojis become part of this new, global language - who had left their original proposal for a period pants emoji 'forever on hold', they told us.

'It was meant to be a little campaign to lightheartedly talk about a serious subject - which is period stigma and taboo,' says Carmen Barlow, digital strategy and development manager at Plan International UK, '[Unicode Consortium] didn't even actively reject it, they just didn't even take it forward, they put it into some sort of paused, forever on hold situation and wouldn't even comment to us.'

The charity had originally pitched a design of a pair of pants with a couple of drops of blood on it, 'It was very heavily period driven, and that is very much what our work is, so we were really sad [when it was rejected],' but unfortunately, an explicit link to periods was just 'too uncomfortable' for the organisation to approve, Carmen speculates. Why? Well, according to Plan International UK, it's because of the very reason they began the campaign.

'I think it's a lot about the stigma and the taboos around periods,' says Carmen, 'I think it's actually really symptomatic of the silence that surrounds this, and why we actually still need to do campaigns around busting period stigma because that was too uncomfortable I think for them to take forward.

'I think the blood drop emoiji is a great step in the right direction,' she continued, 'it's great that one of the terms against it is menstruation and that will be linked in that way, but we still have a long way to go to normalise periods so that a global body like the Unicode Consortium doesn't shy away from calling something a period emoji and making it explicitly that.'

period emoji
©Plan International UK

The consortium, whose voting members include Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and many, many more big businesses have also approved disability-themed emojis this year, including prosthetic limbs, people in wheelchairs and guide dogs. This follows complaints by Apple that very few emojis spoke to the experience of people with disabilities. With a total of 230 new emojis to feature, this will be the sixth major update to the official emoji list.

It seems ridiculous, and it really is, that so much effort has to be put into having emojis approved that speak to multitude of different experiences we have as human beings. But for Plan International UK, it's been a 'worthwhile challenge', as despite originating as a light-hearted campaign, the power of this universal language continue to increase.

'Period stigma really creates a barrier to education for girls and other menstruators and can have a really negative impact on their lives and futures,' says Carmen, 'emojis play a crucial role in our digital and emotional vocabulary, transcending cultural and country barriers. A period emoji can help normalise periods in everyday conversation'

'The inclusion of an emoji which can express what 800 million women around the world are experiencing every month is a huge step towards normalising periods and smashing the stigma which surrounds them,' added Lucy Russell, head of girls' rights and youth at Plan International UK.

'For years we’ve obsessively silenced and euphemised periods,' she said, 'As experts in girls’ rights, we know that this has a negative impact on girls, girls feel embarrassed to talk about their periods, they’re missing out, and they can suffer health implications as a consequence.'

'This is only one part of the solution,' Caldwell added. 'We know that girls around the world are being held back because of their periods, whether that’s the one in five girls here in the UK who are bullied and teased, girls in Zimbabwe who have dropped out of school because the recent cyclone destroyed their period-friendly toilets, or those living in refugee camps in Bangladesh who can’t access period products since fleeing their homes.

'Period poverty will not stop until we fix the toxic trio of affordability of products, lack of education and period shame,' she continued. 'We hope this emoji helps to keep the conversation going.'

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