Women can't be made to suffer for having periods

Everyone, by which I mean men, must accept the fact that menstruation is as natural as breathing.

 |  6-minute read |   04-04-2017
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The process of unlearning is more difficult than learning anew, particularly for women in our part of the world. The socially-constructed woman in me continues to struggle to unlearn what has been taught to me since childhood through my mother, my family or society.

This is not a new realisation. But a recent Facebook post by a Kashmiri friend reminded me of certain things which are not so pleasant about the society we live in. This friend, a businessman, posted on Facebook that a customer had forgotten her sanitary napkins at his food joint. He requested his friends to find the woman so that she could collect her parcel from him.

The public post over finding the woman who bought those sanitary napkins was, as expected, not taken well by his Facebook friends, mostly male. I was curious to know how people would react to the post, given the fact that menstruation is not to be talked about in public due to the whole idea of "shame" attached with it.

The first comment that followed the post went like this: "May be your mother or sister came to see you and they forgot it there."

Disgusted and infuriated as I was, I did not bother to read beyond the first comment.

The men who commented on the post were born of a woman through the same natural process. I am also sure they won't be ashamed of their mother's bodies or the biological processes inherent in women. So what was about "sanitary napkins" that created such furore on my friend's Facebook wall?

The men were clearly uncomfortable and even abusive about sanitary napkins being so openly discussed. How can we talk publicly about something that is a matter of "haya" and "sharam", words that define a woman's existence?

Women are made to feel apologetic about menstruation. We are made to hide the fact that we have periods - every month. No matter how painful the days are, no one should know or talk about it. It is our pain. We must deal with it - in silence. A woman, who is supposed to be the custodian of "haya", cannot be discussing periods. Worse, women are expected to be apologetic about their existence as well.

Instead of being nice and helpful to a woman in your family during her periods - which is one of the many painful parts of a woman's life - we make it all the more miserable for her: by making her feel odd, expecting her not to share her pain, and behave normal. Isn't that asking for too much? Do men who associate shame with women's existence realise how it feels?

woman-embed_040417045759.jpg If the men are by your side, a woman's life has a few less battles. Photo: Reuters

I know many menstruating women around me in families and friend circles who must get up for sehri (the pre-dawn food during Ramzan) even when they are not supposed to fast when they have their periods. Because periods should always remain a secret and the men in the family should not come to know about it.

Is that not ridiculous since all the men ought to be aware of a natural, biological process? She is already in pain, both physical and emotional, and yet she fasts, lest the men would come to know of a menstruating woman in their midst. Do the men, who act as moral custodians in our society, ever think about it?

A girl is born and her socialising begins. The moment she is able to comprehend the realities around her, everyone is more than willing to groom her into a "well-behaved, conforming, marriageable woman". We have gone through the motions. Only the degree of teaching and control differs from one family to another.

When I think of this, I consider myself blessed. I never had to fake a fast. Ever.

I was fortunate to have a comparably more liberal and progressive upbringing in the sense that the three of us - my sister, brother and me - were treated equal by our parents. Be it love or education, our parents hardly showed a bias.

When I think of my father and brother, and compare them to others, I feel proud and blessed. My father raised us differently, equally and taught us to think without being apologetic. I would always prefer to shop with him than my mother. I still prefer the same. Yes, he would also always buy sanitary napkins for me, my sister and our mother.

I remember riding a bicycle in my town, Sopore, when no other girl of my age would even think of it. I was around 18 and I used to go everywhere on the same bicycle. My father never saw anything wrong in it. I used to wear jeans and my parents had to bear the taunts for giving their daughters "too much freedom".

Wearing jeans will remain such a big deal! I had to stop putting them on for fears that my parents would be looked down upon. That was until I came back from Delhi, more confident and ready to take on such people on my own.

My father or brother would drop us to the local parlour and our relatives would raise their eyebrows at the "shameless" practice. That is how difficult it has been for me, my sister, and most of all, my parents, who would often say they don't care. It never deterred them or us. We lived the way we wanted to.

It is such a huge luxury if your parents are by your side and are a bit progressive in a milieu where a woman is always under moral scrutiny. I am a blessed daughter in many ways. No one questioned the choices I made, be it professional or personal. I always had the freedom to do what my heart desired. However, I could not have done it without the support of my father or brother.

From being my own fashion expert to the ever-willing gossip partner, my brother has been different than what most of his tribe I have seen around me. He never took us or my mother for granted, a norm otherwise.

The men around us have a huge role in deciding what and how women should live their lives, be it our fathers, brothers, husbands or even sons. Things do change, but if the men are by your side, a woman's life has a few less battles than it otherwise does.

The men in my life, including my partner for life, have done it for me. It is time for more men to take on and share responsibilities, and show their care to the women in their lives. And that includes accepting the fact that women menstruate. And buy sanitary napkins. And forget them at shops. Period. 

Also read: Women get periods. So bloody what?


Samiya Latief Samiya Latief @samiyalatief

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