Bushra Mahnoor | Pakistan
In the Urdu language, we use the word ‘Na-paak’ for a menstruating woman. Na-peak means unclean. Language is a verbal manifestation of culture. And in the Pakistani culture, menstruating women are regarded as contaminated; filthy which is why we continue to call women Na-paak when they bleed. Menstruation is considered a major taboo in our society. We can only buy sanitary napkins if they are properly covered in a brown bag. In the schools, we are not taught about menstruation and often mothers are reluctant to have a conversation about periods with their daughters.
I had my periods when I was 10 years of age. I remember that cold December morning very clearly. It was the first day of our winter holidays and my sisters and I had already made a thousand plans on how we were going to spend the holidays. I had saved up some pocket money and bought a new tennis racket and was very excited to play with it. The moment I left my bed I saw a huge red spot on the sheets and then I saw my pyjamas which were drenched in blood too. I had seen this much blood for the first time in my life. My stomach dropped at the sight of blood which was all over the sheets. I ran to the bathroom and started washing. I did not want anyone to see me in this state.
I was crying while I washed my pyjamas.
After a moment my mother knocked at the door and handed me a packet. She told me to put it in my panties and be quick since breakfast was getting cold. I had a hundred questions in my mind. My mother later told me that I was not supposed to talk about this incident with anyone. I would later find out that all the period education that I was ever going to receive at my home consisted of one sentence: You are dirty now.
Me and my cousins used to play in the evening every day. I recall it very vividly that evening when my sister asked me to come and play with her, my mother scolded me and told me that now I was a woman and I should not be participating in foolish sports. I had my bright red tennis racket in hand and I pleaded with her to let me play just once. She took my racket away and told me that I should behave like a woman now. Every evening of my winter holidays, I sat in the corner and watched my cousins and sisters play. I hated being a woman.
When I got my period for the second time, I was more shocked. I had received no period education at my home or school. I did not know that periods are cyclic and I will be bleeding every month for a major part of my adult life. I was afraid of these changes that were happening to my body and I was too mortified to share it with anyone. I remember that evening I sat tight on a wooden chair for a time that felt like a hundred years while I waited for my mother to come back home and give me sanitary napkins. My clothes were drenched in blood by that time and I had been sobbing hysterically the whole time.
It took me years to heal from the self-loathing and shame that I experienced every month when I bled. The journey hasn’t been easy. I might feel contented that I have recovered but it makes my heart ache to think that there are still so many little girls out there who continue to suffer just because we couldn’t stop stigmatizing periods. They inherited the internalized shame of their mothers and carry this burden on their feeble shoulders. It is time we reclaim our period blood as a symbol of life. It is time we pull our women out of this cycle of shame.
Bushra is the co-founder of the Feminist Students Collective and a part of Aurat March Pakistan. She is a socialist feminist, activist and student of Psychology who loves to write. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org