Aurat Azadi: We March… And We Bleed

Patriarchal dogma hinders women’s progress by deeming them lesser, weaker, and at times, impure. Nature has bestowed the female body with an amazing ability to breed life. And with life comes blood.

Most women bleed or have bled at some time in their life. And yet, menstruation which is the experience of more than half of our population, remains taboo. Ironically, menstruation is shrouded in secrecy in a society that perceives it completely normal to have men defecating in public and every other wall laden with ads for curing erectile dysfunction. The problem is not blood, but the fact that it comes out of women’s bodies makes it repugnant.

While countries like Switzerland have made period products free, we are still struggling to start a conversation on periods. The fact that Period shaming is so deeply minted in our collective subconscious becomes evident when we call menstruating women ‘napaak’ (impure) in the common tongue.

By curtailing dialogue over such a crucial matter, we expose our women to a wide range of diseases and complications. 79% of women in Pakistan are unable to manage their menstruations hygienically. Less than one-fifth of Pakistani women use sanitary pads when bleeding, leaving a vast majority of women to depend on old rags. Due to the scarcity of resources, family members share their cloths among themselves, leading to poorer hygiene standards and a greater risk of urinary and reproductive tract infections. Not just this, when washed, women cannot hang these clothes outside to dry them, so they end up using damp cloths which breed cultures of bacteria.

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But this problem is not limited to financial constraints and illiteracy; it is backed by rigid socio-cultural norms as well. Our society thinks that educating women about their bodies will sabotage their chastity, so it actively withholds imperative period knowledge from them. A UNICEF survey in 2017 stated that half of the Pakistani women did not know about menstruation before menarche, and 28% of women had missed school or work because of menstrual cramps or the fear of staining clothes. This shouldn’t come as a shock since 28% of Pakistani women have no access to menstrual hygiene facilities at home, school, or the workplace.

The Brown bag phenomenon is another way to shame women. Sanitary pads, when bought, are wrapped in a brown bag in an attempt to obscure the humiliation tied with women’s bodies and their dirty blood. This only adds to women’s hesitation to buy these products.

The lack of public washrooms disproportionately impacts menstruating women. Thus, they are forced to miss school, work, curtail mobility and public participation just because they are menstruating. One-third of girls drop out of school before completing primary education due to a lack of proper menstrual sanitation facilities in schools.

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Such is the case of women lacking autonomy over their bodies because they are not even allowed to learn about them. To bleed is normal, and there should be no shame associated with it. With ‘Women’s health’ as the theme of Aurat March this year, it’s high time for us to realize these grave problems of women’s reproductive and menstrual health.

Menstrual products are a basic need, and it’s a shame that 44% of girls in our country do not have access to basic menstrual hygiene facilities at home, their school, or in their workplace. All taxes must be abolished on sanitary products, and the government should ensure their free availability in schools, colleges, and all public places. Initiating a conversation over periods is very important. Paid period leaves of at least 2 days a month must be introduced.

This article was written by Bushra Mahnoor. To write for The Students Herald contact: writetostudentsherald@gmail.com

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