Why should a woman be shamed for being on her period?

Published: April 16, 2016

Women are told that periods are ‘dirty’ and ‘not a pious state of being’. So, in case someone finds out that you’re on your period: cue horror. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

I’ve been watching a recent debate unfold: students at a local university in Pakistan stuck sanitary napkins on the university walls with poignant quotes.

As a woman, I admired the bravado of these students. Mainly because ever since we were kids, we’re told that since we are the ‘weaker/fairer’ sex, we shouldn’t:

“Wear too much make-up”,

“Wear a dupatta this way”

“Wear such high heels”,

“Don’t talk so loudly’,

Oh yeah, and,

“When on your period, channel your inner Jane Bond.”

Maybe the men don’t get the whole psyche that’s inbuilt women from the age their periods start. The society has some sort of a state of emergency when it comes to women’s periods. Women are told that periods are ‘dirty’ and ‘not a pious state of being’. So, in case someone finds out that you’re on your period: cue horror.

Whatever will they think of you? Whatever will they say?

Sanitary napkins are wrapped in brown paper bags at the grocery stores and supermarkets in such severe secrecy, as if they’re drugs or alcohol in a dry country like Pakistan. Oh and it’s totally okay to lie when you’re on your period? If in case, because of your periods or co-morbid symptoms, you are unable to do something, please feel free to lie. Popular favourites are,

“But my head aches!” or

“I think I’ve got food poisoning” etc etc.

Telling someone that you’re on your period is a taboo, a sin, a problem, a social evil.

I wish for someone to inform the masses that, according to psychologists, pre/post menstrual syndrome can bring about many symptoms, such as depression, bloating and nausea. Therefore it’s in the person’s, as well as the people around them, best interest to be informed of the accompanying symptoms.

This campaign met with a lot of hate. And many of the critics said that this is an elityaproblem. They elaborate that the ‘real problems’ that plague women are acid attacks and honour killing, and that this should be disregarded for being elitist.

But just consider this for a second; the people behind this campaign never said they’re on a mission to solve every problem that has ever been encountered by any woman. Nor did they make any claims about their campaign being representational for all women. These young students that belong to a relatively well-to-do university, only wanted to create awareness for problems that they themselves face on a day-to-day basis.

The fact remains, that there are serious diseases that are associated to menstruation, such as dysmenorrhea, polycystic ovary syndrome and migraines. However, women will shy away from addressing such problems because the topic is too ‘embarrassing’. She never has the courage to ask for help or seek treatment.

Critics say these are problems of the privileged. And to some extent I agree. Many women in Pakistan who celebrate the word ‘feminism’ have pretty much exploited the term to their own benefit. For example, there are some ‘feminists’ who have acquired an expensive education, handed money to spend as they please, and various other luxuries. This is all from living off of their fathers and, soon after, a suitable husband. They become comfortable begum sahibas who hire underage maids to cater to their children, and hire drivers to take them to kitty parties and lawn exhibitions. When someone like that chants ‘feminism’, it is indeed difficult to take them seriously.

Yet the fact remains that the menstrual cycle is something every woman goes through. Whether she’s a queen or a princess, a health worker (who’s on her feet pretty much 18 hours a day) or a university student who has to hide her physical discomfort during an exam or a big presentation. And they all have to go about their lives pretending there’s nothing going on with their ovaries.

Maybe it’s about time they want to talk about it? Maybe all women want to talk about it? Maybe they don’t want to be considered dirty just because their bodies are undergoing something natural. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

As human beings, do we consider ourselves dirty for our entire lives just because we poop or pass urine? Then why does a woman have to pretend to be an undercover agent just because she’s on her period?

These are young kids who want to bring everyone’s attention to an important social taboo and I find nothing wrong with that. These are young kids who will be tomorrow’s parents – and they won’t, I hope, harangue and harass their kids about the same taboos the way our parents have.

When the elite and the privileged want attention, they get it. And sure, they don’t ‘get’ what ‘real’ pain is. Yet to discard their effort completely, merely on this premise can be dangerous; the woman living in the farm, with a family to feed, working under the harshest possible conditions, who can’t even find the time, the energy and the resources to find a decent school for her kids – do we expect her to start an awareness campaign on the taboos related to the menstrual cycle?

On the flipside, while there’s a bourgeoisie feminist cliche that exists in Pakistan, there’s a ghairat brigade that jumps at the opportunity of lambasting anyone who attempts to talk about women’s rights. For example,

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is making these social awareness movies to defame Pakistan. But, the man who is spewing hatred against her and brainwashing generations that women are forms of commodity – such a man cannot be criticised.”

Oh no. That’d be blasphemy.

The question is, if a woman wants to sit at a dhaba and drink tea, what’s your problem? If a woman wants to run a dhaba in the village, what’s your problem? If a woman wants to prove that the menstrual cycle is a normal occurrence and the reason behind mankind thriving and avoiding extinction – what’s your problem?

Why should a woman be ashamed of being on her period? Is it not a regular biological happening? Shouldn’t our daughters and sisters know about menstrual cycles and everything about it from a very young age?

And what kind of ‘values’ does an awareness campaign threaten, anyway? The values that allow women to be killed in the name of honour? Where mullahs come out on streets against a bill that protects women?

Too long have we associated women with honour in a way that has harmed no one else but women. Values and culture aside, there are people who want the hollow slogans regarding ‘honour’ to disappear. They question these codes of morality that hypocritically only apply to women. They are the people who want women to stop being the victims of a society’s so-called honour.

These people are brave people indeed.

If this oppression represents the true values of our society, then these values need to be eliminated – only for the positive and progressive evolution of society itself.

Every person who talks for women and their rights is respectable. And every person who believes that all sexes are equal and wants to advocate such equality, should be given plenty of space to speak, to campaign.

You may disagree, you may offer your criticisms – but you cannot say,

“Why are they talking about it? Why do they want this problem to even be highlighted?”

In the words of the poet,

Shik’va e zulmat-e-shab se toh kaheen behtar tha

Apne hissayh ki koi sham’a jalaatay jaatay

(You woe the darkness of the night

Tis better had you lit the way)

This post originally appeared here in Urdu.


Mahwash Badar

The author is a clinical psychologist, a mum to two boys and permanently in a state of flux. She tweets @mahwashajaz_ (twitter.com/mahwashajaz_)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Islam has tough restrictions for women. The propaganda spread by so-called moderate Muslims only refer to two to three hadiths, which point to wives to be treated nicely, but upon close examination, even those reflect patronization/pity more than any genuine intent.Recommend

  • guest

    unisamic!!!! this is against islam and teachings of holiest, `,most handsome, attractive man ever lived on earth- mohammad nabbiRecommend

  • Anum

    Yes, periods are nothing to be ashamed of, but not something to be made advertisement of. Okay periods are natural, so is passing urine and poop as you say. Maybe start advertising your excretion to make a point that this is natural? There are some things that ate best kept discreet and private, nobody feels comfortable when you make a public display of it.

    Why don’t we address other urgent women health issues like breast cancer awareness?

  • http://thoughtsandotherthing.blogspot.fr/2015/09/hyderabad-as-i-know-and-feel.html Supriya Arcot
  • Azmat Khan

    What a great articleRecommend

  • Hassam Tahir

    A woman’s so called Honour supports the agenda of male dominance.Recommend

  • Fareha Nizam

    Our society should understand that if a women is on thr periods, it’s not “sick” or a “problem”. but it is the solution to other future problems!!!

    Women should be treated will love and care specially when they are on periods, because of the pain they are bearing, for the future of her and her family!Recommend

  • Faraz Faruqui

    Stupid blog.
    Noone should be ashamed of that but that doesn’t mean you start sowing it off on the roads.

  • Akhwandk

    I had a friend who said she sat on a razor for 3 straight years during school. Everyone saying its not like anyone dies from having periodsRecommend

  • Rabia Shahzad

    what point are you trying to make? you have literally talked about everything under the sun ( so to speak)..it seems as if you jotted down every random thought on the subject “women”. poorly written piece.Recommend

  • doom

    I don’t understand why people keep making this equivalence with urine and faeces. First, it is blood. The kind that everyone has inside of them. Do people get hysterical if they see blood from any other body part? Second, no one is going around spray-painting period blood everywhere.

    The only point is we should be able to comfortable talk about periods and women get the things they need without it being weird and awkward. I know women who go on faqqay in Ramzan because they don’t want their fathers/brothers to see them not fasting and figure out that they have periods. Women literally starving themselves for no reason just to hide their periods!Recommend

  • omerulz

    I guess the writer is the only one who feels ashamed. I haven’t seen anyone being ashamed of having periods in Pakistan. Yes off course, they don’t go shouting about it, “I am having periods everyone!!!”. Loll is that what you want? LOL!Recommend

  • Abdullah Ghayur

    I do agree with you that periods are natural and there is nothing to be ashamed of. but there are few things which should be kept secret for e.g every one in the world knows what a pair does at night after marriage but do you think this personal moments should be shared in front of your family, friends or those who have nothing to do with this???? and mam plz go to some medical store and ask to buy a condom you will definitely be amazed to find that condoms are also wrapped in brown paper.Recommend

  • Hassan

    Pointless argument, what is so especial about the topic? what is your demand??? what do u want from the society, should we celebrate when a girl is having periods, like in a family someone go inside the room to confirm if the girl is having periods and then she returns with the ”Good news” to certify that to her family that yeah guyz she is having periods hurry nad people start going gaga, throwing party in the evening, what exactly is ur demand???? if a girl wants to celebrate it let her do that, but the author does not have the right to speak on behalf of the millions of girls, most of the girls have a different opinion than her on the subject. most of the girls are annoyed with that campaign, they think it is useless baseless and illogical, tell me if there is anything bad going on with girls in Pakistan regarding the issue? The author failed to explain what exactly is her demand?? what do u want us to do when a girl is having period? what is the DEMAND for God sake?Recommend

  • Sheikh Abdullah

    The blogger defended the exposition of quoted pads in the university insanely. The subject menstruation is widely discussed in the feminine world and there is no need to advertise the whereabouts in opposite sex circle. Dhabas run by females in villages is very impertinent example for the discussion of menstruation. Recommend

  • Hassan

    We have been watching the advertisement of Pads on our television then how else should we open to the subject?Recommend

  • Sane

    I 100% agree what you say. The act staged at the uni is just sheer nonsense. Those who contributed and support must be ashamed.Recommend

  • Mariam

    a pointless and senseless article.. author is confused in her own arguments..Recommend