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Breaking the shame around menstruation: WNBL MVP Anneli Maley on period pride

Bendigo Spirit's Anneli Maley has plenty to be proud of — being the reigning WNBL MVP, her stint in the WNBA with Chicago Sky, playing for the Opals at the recent World Cup in Sydney. 

And now she wants to add periods to that list.

"We've been taught as young kids, as young women to be embarrassed of having a period," Maley told ABC Sport.

"When you bleed through your shorts, it's like, 'Oh my god, how embarrassing'.

"It's not embarrassing, it just happens. Like sometimes I get scratches on my knees, and I bleed through my pants.

"And not all women get periods, and not all people with periods identify as women.

"So when we talk about women prideful of their periods, it's all genders that experience something along the lines of this.

"I think, especially being a female athlete, we are strong, formidable role models.

"And if we have the ability to exude pride in something that we've been told to be ashamed of, it's only going to have a positive effect."

This week, during round four of the WNBL, the league is hosting its inaugural "Fighting Period Poverty" round in partnership with charity Share the Dignity.

The aim is to raise awareness of those who don't have access to sanitary products, raise money for a vending machine that dispenses free sanitary items and provide period product donation boxes at games.

"Period poverty is not just a female issue, it's a whole of the population is issue," Maley said.

"It might directly affect people with female organs. But it also should be something that's supported by men as well.

"So I think that it's super important that we're doing this."

Fighting period poverty through access

The concept of period pride isn't straightforward for the close to two million Australians who experience period poverty, including homeless people, victims of family and domestic violence, and low income earners.

"We've got women who are working who cannot afford their electricity, their rent, their food bills and their fuel bills. So buying sanitary items is the last thing on their list," Share the Dignity founder and Managing Director Rochelle Courtenay said.

Courtenay started the charity in 2015 to help people who couldn't afford pads or tampons, like Brisbane's Kathy Graham.

Graham was the victim of a domestic violence shooting 14 years ago.

She suffered significant physical and emotional trauma, and only accessed much needed support through Beyond DV a few years ago.

Last year, at the organisation's Christmas party, she chose a handbag, as part of Share the Dignity's "It's in the Bag" campaign, which distributes donated handbags filled with essential items.

"Normally, when you escape DV it's like, 'Just be happy with what you've got'," Graham told ABC Sport.

It meant a lot to her to be able to select her own handbag, which included a handwritten note that struck home, saying "you are not alone".

"I chose my little blue bag with two packets of pads, I was so happy with those," she said.

"It [sounds] really silly, but it wasn't. Because pads are expensive, and I was just relocating into a new home and I was a bit financially stressed.

"A packet of pads may only be $5 to everybody else, but if you don't have that $5 and it's that time of the month, you're in strife.

"You don't want to go into a Centrelink office or police station with blood dripping down your legs or marks on the back of your skirt.

"And you don't want to be singled out, because you are going through enough trauma, and you need help."

Graham said the simple act of having her own handbag has helped her feel empowered and respected.

"When I was in DV, I didn't have a handbag, I thought it was for other women.

"It was for people that have got it all together and that had the look, I didn't have that look.

"I know for most of the population and the community that doesn't make sense. But for a woman that's isolated it does."

Graham said her life has turned around since being connected with Beyond DV, she now has her own place, works, and has gained much needed social connections and self-confidence. 

Courtenay has seen improvement in awareness around periods and access, with all state schools now providing free period products for students.

And while she's welcomed Victoria Premier Dan Andrews' pledge to provide free pads and tampons in public locations if re-elected, she said more needed to be done.

"We only exist until the government and each state comes on board and says, 'You know what, this is important to everybody'," she said.

"And access to sanitary items should be something that nobody in their state should be worrying about."

Period pride is for everyone

Period pride involves getting boys and men in on the conversation too.

"It's something that in the WNBL, we all, for the most part, have a period," Maley said.

"And it's not something that we should shy away from talking about, especially when you have a lot of people that do struggle with PMS, and really bad periods, it's good to talk about so we can learn how to manage this."

Maley wants more people within the basketball ecosystem to get on board too.

"Male coaches and male management need to be educated on what a period is and how it affects our bodies."

Courtenay said that education needed to start at a young age.

"I have a niece in Victoria who was going on camp at grade five and the boys were asked to leave the room so that they could have a conversation around periods.

"Now that's where you start the shame and stigma.

"It's so ridiculous, that we are now in 2022 and we are not educating boys and men on menstruation.

"Because those little boys who don't learn about it, they become somebody's husband, somebody's boss, somebody's partner, somebody's father, and don't have any understanding of what affects half the population monthly."

Round 4 of the WNBL tips off on Wednesday.

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