[Editor’s note: This blog was wrongly attributed to another amazing author, but I have now corrected this and credited the correct author for her brilliant and thought provoking piece.]
Words by: Amena Begum
There is a stigma surrounding periods, well ‘menstruation’ if we are to give it its technical term; and it appears to be a massive taboo in the South Asian culture. It is viewed as dirty and impure, leaving many women as outcasts; it is a bodily function that is not even to be spoken of. It’s truly shocking how many girls across regions of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are not even taught about female puberty, never mind periods, simply because of the shame that stigmatizes it. But how is this shameful? Do they not understand that it is a natural, biological function which is a part of every female body?
This may feel like another feminist rant but in actual fact it is an issue that I feel many feminists tend to overlook, especially in the western world where we have made significant advancements in female healthcare.
South Asian countries are in desperate need of campaigns and sexual education lessons in schools, where an emphasis is placed on addressing the concept of menstruation fulling, rather than censoring it where it is deemed shameful. Countries such as Bangladesh are not given any education on their anatomy and their natural bodily functions, which is why they are now regarded as taboo.
But… there are some positives! On the 9th of February 2018, a film named ‘Padman’ was released in India, about a man who causes an uproar in his village by revolutionising the concept of menstrual hygiene in rural India by creating a low-cost sanitary napkin machine. The film was designed to educate both men and women across the nation about menstruation: that it is completely natural and should not be stigmatised. The film received a lot of praise and commendation, however it was also subject to backlash from critics in Pakistan who claimed that ‘it goes against religion and culture’, banning the film in the country. Popular Pakistani actress Armeena Khan was quick to come to the film’s defence, through her Instagram, praising it for falsifying the stereotypes surrounding female menstruation. Her response attracted the support of her vast number of fans, and other stars began to praise the success of ‘Padman’ as well. In the lead up to the film’s release, one of the film’s key stars, and popular Bollywood actress, Sonam Kapoor and her team distributed feminine hygiene products to young girls in schools within rural India. This was crucial in educating those living in remote areas about their natural bodily functions; that there was nothing shameful about having a period; and that they should embrace what their amazing bodies are capable of.
So…what’s the message behind all of this? Menstruation is nothing to be ashamed of. Period.