Menstruation; Not a shame anymore!
Experiencing menstruation is an important indicator of reproductive health that holds great significance in the life of young girls. For 2 billion women and girls worldwide, menstruation is a monthly reality. Yet along with much low- income countries including Pakistan, women and girls face serious challenges when it comes to managing their periods.
According to a study from the UN, one out of three girls in South Asia knew nothing about menstruation prior to getting it, while 48% of girls in Iran and 10% of girls in India believe that menstruation is a disease.
There are various stigmas surrounding menstruation that have a detrimental impact on girls’ futures. Many girls lack access to affordable hygienic menstrual produces. Instead, they tend to use improvised materials such as rags or used clothes. Not only they are uncomfortable, but they can lead to leaks and infections.
Girls also lack access to clean, safe private toilets. There is no clean water within or near the toilets, which means there is nowhere to clean up and discreetly dispose of used menstrual products.
To make it even worse, women and girls often face harsh social taboos about periods which exclude them from certain activities, such as cooking or praying – and in some cases even going to school. In that time of month, females cannot pray on the prayer mat, read the Quran, or fast during Ramzan, swim or wear a white shalwar qameez unless they want to embarrass themselves. One of the serious stigmas is that girls cannot take bath during periods, as it may harm women’s health, which is actually not scientifically true.
This situation can have a negative impact on girls and young women. Many young girls are forced to skip schools during their periods as they are embarrassed or do not have any access to the facilities they need, while others drop out altogether. Hence, they are less likely return to education, leaving them vulnerable to early marriage, violence and forced sexual relations.
In such a disgusting situation, young girls even don’t protest. They accept their situation, even the lack of sanitary pads. They don’t even wear underwear. Instead, they make a sort of loincloth from old clothes that they tie between their legs. As for washing and drying cloths, it must be done in secret, if at all. It is discreet, but also dangerous; unless menstrual clothes are properly washed and dried in sunlight, they can be a health hazard.
In urban areas, only 20 percent of girls have access to sanitary pads and when there are trips to stores, there are tactfully hung piles of brown paper bags found next to shelves in “Ladies products” section.
Females rip off bags and stuff them with all manner of sanitary pads and then give them to shopkeeper for billing. He will pull them out and type slowly and painfully into the machine, as waiting shoppers casually avert their eyes.
In a country where more and more girls are living displaced lives due to natural disasters and ongoing military operations in the north, talking about safe practices for young girls and women should be a top priority.
Unfortunately, the only space where the matter is somewhat openly discusses – TV ads, feature women in light- colored clothing prancing that the right products will end all misery and social anxiety.
TV commercials aside, the shame surrounding this most common aspect of womanhood is prevalent everywhere else. Teachers and parents hardly discuss it either.
The Logical Pakistani thinks that we can turn menstruation into our own emblem of women empowerment, but in order to do so, Pakistani women must reject the language that terms a natural occurrence an impurity. This is a critical first step for our own bodies to remain ours, and not be object to shame and disgust.
After that, let’s look to burning the paper bags hanging from the shelves in stores.
Break a leg, Pakistani women!