“The active ingredient in period stigma is misogyny” (Lindy West)
Women in many cultures, especially in Arab cultures, are told that menstruation is a shameful topic that should not be discussed publicly, especially in front of men.
This stigmatization is ingrained in the minds of many people, sadly even in women who have been brought up in these toxic environments. Therefore, they end up teaching their daughters that menstruation is a “hush-hush” topic.
Weirdly, a normal bodily function is treated as a literal crime in this culture.
Moreover, menstruation products are treated as if they are drugs being dealt with in secret and hidden from the views of people, so their so-called crime does not get caught.
In my experience, this is true and if you are caught “red-handed” by men, there is a patriarchal shame that women go through, and excuses are given to what the product may be instead of being direct about the fact that you are bleeding.
Although I am Pakistani, Arab, and Pakistani cultures are quite similar, especially in the case of menstruation stigmatization.
One time I was in Pakistan, and I got my period. And there were no menstruation products at home, so my grandma went to a shop to get them.
When she came home, the plastic bag was double wrapped around the menstrual product, and before handing them to me, she looked around to see if there were any men in our proximity and proceeded to shove the pads into my hands and told me to stealthily go into the washroom and not let anyone see them.
That was a memorable experience because it made periods into a shameful topic for me.
This stigmatization comes from previous generations, and we are told to keep this so-called tradition upheld.
Being on your period automatically makes a woman disgusting in these cultures, the women are ‘impure’, ‘dirty’, and ‘untouchable’.
And this is where many people get culture and religion mixed up.
In religion, menstruation is not looked at as something that is disgusting but is perceived as a normal bodily function for women with no taboo attached to it.
In culture, menstruation is sinful, and if attempting to speak of the topic, I swear we all get those death stares from our mothers to close our mouths when attempting to discuss the topic.
Furthermore, many men are oblivious to periods, and it is absurd that they get disgusted when you discuss what periods are and often act like young children when they come up.
Even if there are men who have a basic understanding of periods, they still ignore this fact and still treat it as disgusting when women attempt to discuss this issue.
Moreover, if you are Muslim and read the Quran, there are Hadiths on periods, and they do not demean women for having them, but treat them in a normal way.
Consequently, culture triumphs over religion and the voices of women who are attempting to speak of the issues are shunned.
There is also pain that women go through when they are on their periods, and the pain can be extensive, and you have two choices on how you will tell someone about your period pain, a) you can dismiss your pain, b) give any random excuse to why you are having pain.
But daresay you speak of periods!
This problem gets worse during Ramadan.
In Ramadan, a person abstains from eating and drinking for one whole month. When women are on their periods, they are exempted from fasting.
But nosy people do not let anyone live.
Ironically, the real motivation of Ramadan is to cleanse your soul and mind your own business, but God forbid if a woman is caught eating during Ramadan as she will be hit with millions of questions and taunts from men:
“Aren’t you fasting?”
“Why aren’t you fasting?”
“God is watching you!”
“You’re such a bad Muslim!”
Okay, so now you are going to judge whether I am a good Muslim? So, just by eating in Ramadan, I’m going to hell?
Therefore, due to this culture, women must make up random excuses as to why they cannot fast.
On Twitter, many women complain of this issue:
I can’t explain how much it bothers me to see that some women don’t eat/drink while on their periods during Ramadan out of fear of “getting caught” by men and then aren’t able to take painkillers all in the name of shame. Please don’t let yourself suffer.
— Yzma (@basmaie) May 9, 2019
Ladies, when we're on our periods, I know how frustrating it can be to feel barred from the spirituality of Ramadan. And I know that some cultures shame and guilt for eating when others are fasting. But the guilting, the shaming- those are not from Islam.
— ✨نِمعوُ (@Nimxx_) May 31, 2018
In my household, when women are on their periods during Ramadan they must go eat in the corner and when someone sees them eating, it’s always:
“WHY AREN’T YOU FASTING?”
This is so embarrassing and has happened to me countless times because everyone looks at you like you are guilty, especially men.
That is why when Ramadan rolls around, I start dreading my periods because I hate going through all that shame over something I cannot control.
As a first-generation Canadian, this topic is still taboo for women here especially of Arab and South-Asian heritage.
When a woman is on her period, there is a code-name for them, and the code-name I use with my friends are calling periods “thing.”
“Are you on your thing?” “Yeah, I’m on it.”
Thus, once during Ramadan, I did not fast and went to school with my water bottle, and there were many Muslims in my class.
In class, I was drinking water because I was thirsty. Out of the corner of my eyes, I see the Muslim guys staring at me, and they look at each other and give each other these big smirks.
On noticing this, my friend proceeds to question why I would make it evident that I could not fast. And I was shocked at her for accusing me like I am a criminal.
This generational mindset is prevalent today and needs to be openly discussed because we should never let women be embarrassed with something normal.
Instead of seeing periods as a source of shame and making women hate themselves, they should be discussed with the wider community.
All of this will only happen when women are ready to discuss this with their family members regardless of gender because only through that will we abolish the stigmatization of menstruation.
We need to create a shame-free world for women to love themselves and not hate themselves over something that they cannot control.
You brave girl
Are a warrior
And warriors are