Struggling to fight against silence and shame — menstrual taboo in Pakistan

From the dark ages, the discussion on menstruation has been considered as a taboo. Even in this age of today, discussing on the menstrual issue in public treated as shameful, disgusting and insulting. It’s strange that despite with the science and medical advances, society still evoked menstruation to be a censorable topic that makes women impure and disgusting.

Surprisingly in a country like Pakistan where patriarchal society exists adds more embarrassment, shame and horror not only for girls in rural areas but, also for those — living in urban areas of Pakistan.

In the light of menstruation taboo existence, I am listing the problems and issues that are still painful and shameful for the menstruating woman living in urban cities of Pakistan. Yet, having sufficient knowledge regarding menstrual health and hygienic practices, they still encounter stigma with society in their menstruating days either they are at home, workplace or educational institutions.

Buying sanitary napkins is a tough job

As a woman, we all love to do shopping either for self or for our family. But when it comes to buying the sanitary product; it’s easier for ladies to buy packs of a diaper for children, but it’s a horrific-feeling to buy sanitary pads or tampons for themselves from a store. We women might be afraid that other customers (especially males) will notice and laugh at us or interacting with cashier makes us uncomfortable. And this does happen!

Even, I myself like many other women feel embarrassed or self-conscious while pausing at the shelves of sanitary pads to make a purchase. Why? Two words: embarrassing purchase.

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We need to understand that this uncomfortable, unease and shameful feeling is geared by our culture. We keep on hearing that we need to educate & empower our women as its nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a natural and common thing and we should feel comfortable and confident with the natural cycle & flows.

Similarly, men of our society need education equally in this matter. Because they are the one who played a major role in shaming periods. We need to educate them about menstrual health and aware them the necessities of hygienic practices. So, next time if they saw a woman at a store buying pads rather than giving embarrassed looks or sneaky smiles better to act as mature sensible individuals. It’s a natural process, so take it normal!

Periods & Ramadan

Ramadan is the holy month for the Muslim community. It’s the month of fasting. Also, in the Quran, it is clearly stated that Muslim women should take a break from fasting and praying during menses. That is, with no objection, must be followed. However, in Islam, the knowledge regarded menstruation health hadn’t objectified as an ashamed or disgusted topic to be discussed. But, due to our deep-rooted cultural ties with Indian sub-continent, we develop this behaviour still to be ashamed and embarrassed about our periods.

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So, eventually, in the month of Ramadan, a lot of rituals have to be followed by women. Many of us women shared a lot of common experiences in Ramadan at the time of menstruating days. Such as:

We have to pretend all day (even waking up in Sehri’s) that we aren’t on our periods in Ramadan, even if we’re; we have to hide it, at all cost from our male family member.

With all due respect, it isn’t right to eat/drink in other people presence in their fasting. But, I heard many stories like; many women choose to starve all day along at school/college or workplace. Just so, if they caught by someone secretly eating or drinking it becomes the terrible situation. Peers or male colleagues start giving crappy attitude to make fun of them. Consequently, it becomes tougher for them to concentrate on their work properly.

During my internship days, I met with one such experience myself. My male supervisor sarcastically started asking his female team member: why do the women not complete their fast count in the month of Ramadan? Or asking loudly in front of other male presence — did you fast a whole month? Just to make them feel ashamed or uncomfortable.

Starting from home, waking up in Sehri’s just to pretend to fast along all day even Allah has given us a right to eat. We still hide it and take it on extremes, like, what if a male family member (brother/father) will know? They will feel uncomfortable. However, the truth is, it will just make us uncomfortable because we were taught from the beginning, that it must be hidden. And if it’s disclosed, you will be labelled shameful. So, primarily, people need to understand first, that periods exist.

Even in Islam menstruation subject has been the most frequently discussed topic in the fiqh areas. So, when Islam talks about it openly, there is no need to conceal this part of your life. With knowledge and discussion, this topic will become natural phenomena not a source of shame or discomfort. After all, it’s a serious matter about one’s health, and there is nothing more important than health.

We are all aware of the importance of staying hydrated while on periods to reduce cramps and pains; as a sensible woman, we all need to take care of our health, feed our bodies well. As when Islam has given us the right no one can deny us of the same. Understand your faith is a matter between you and Allah and anyone’s remarks on you won’t matter in the end.

Superstitions never stop chasing

From ancient times superstition regarding menstruation blood was taken too seriously that later on, impacted woman negatively in either way i.e. physically or emotionally. Though, in the present age with the science wisdom; superstitions have lessened but never truly faded. Many of us living in educated lifestyles still follow blind practices in periods that are based on blind beliefs.

Like, use cloth instead of disposable pads because it can be used as black magic which will make women infertile or if someone sees used pads/cloth they will be cursed or menstruating women can’t bath as this could lead problem for internal organs. What’s more shocking I ever heard that virgin women could lose their virginity if they use tampons and they will be label shameful/impure.

Image by myk104

These practices have been passed down through generations and hold no truth. Even though, Islam mentions woman only as an impure from performing religious functions. She hasn’t considered having any contagious uncleanness and she has given freedom to do the daily task as she normally does. And to break these remaining myths we need to educate ourselves about sex health life more often starting from our own home. Because education no doubt erases the ignorance that once we hold upon too seriously.

To wrap up all this, I would like to appreciate that our society has evolved lot more than previous decades. But there is still more need to be done.

I don’t mean to imply that we woman should unnecessarily speak around everywhere or overshare about our periods.

Yes, it is a biological normal event that happens all around but the way media and social activist are promoting to show blood spots at the back of shirts or holding pads in hand in public won’t drain the shame. It gives a more negative image and seems unethical to talk everywhere about your body fluids and flows.

Talk where it seems appropriate and where it is needed the most.

In addition, our men should be aware of these health issues that women face in periods. As this is not a matter to ignore but a time to give more support and care. Because later on, the male family member has to run to the hospital in severe case of their women health which will not only adverse their finances but also will affect work-life balance.

A taker & a giver of an advice. Love to read & like to write —lifestyle, skincare regimen, cultural and social issues! Tea addicted.