There was a time I used to long to get periods. When I was as young as 9, my mother told me to report to her if I noticed any bleeding. I was not sure what this exactly meant but I knew all very well that it is something every girl gets. Women in my family apparently got their periods very early. But it took its own sweet time for me. And I remember as a little girl how worried I was. In school, some girls taunted me that maybe something was wrong with me. And I kept on feeling miserable and having doubts about myself.
And finally, one fine day, I got my menstruation. I woke up to find myself sleeping over my blood-stained bedsheet and our domestic helper grinning at me. I was very close to her emotionally, and she knew how worried I was. My mother told me I didn’t need to go to school for two days. I was elated, even though it was really painful.
My relationship with my menstrual cycle has been bittersweet as it brings in pain, every single time, but I am still grateful to be one of the privileged ones. I did not yet suffer from any health complications, and I have had support from my schools and family to learn about menstrual hygiene. I have always had good quality sanitary napkins. And I am lucky to have painkillers and chocolates to cope with the pain and mood swings, and I try to take as much rest as I can.
But not every woman is as lucky and privileged.
There are countless women around the world who because of poverty and social stigma, suffer a lot during their menstruation. I have dealt with the stigma too, and it took me a long time to embrace my period as a natural part of my existence. I remember that in shops in India and Bangladesh, I found it difficult to face the shopkeepers sometimes because some of them would grin or flash a sleazy smile. And the packets were always wrapped very well with black colored plastic or newspapers, to hide what is inside. But of course, people could always guess what is inside. And for many years of my life, I could never express in front of men that I have menstruation. It was unimaginable.
When I studied in New Delhi, India, I remember some feminist women in my campus organized a session on menstruation and I was not surprised that very few men turned up in the discussion, and among them, very few spoke up. A few days later, when I went out to have tea with my friends, a male classmate told me that this session was “too radical”. He tried to imply that it was unnecessary and “too much.”
And if this is the experience of an average woman belonging to a middle-class family in Bangladesh/India, dear readers, it is only painful to think of what happens to countless others who hardly have any privilege- those who become victims of oppressive traditions relating to menstruation, those who cannot afford to buy sanitary napkins, those who do not have access to valuable information, refugee women in overcrowded camps for instance.
And talking about menstruation is still not easy. We have a long way to go. A few years ago, I posted something about breaking this stigma and was trolled mercilessly. And it happens to many like me, on a regular basis. We are trolled for trying to speak up. It is all the more challenging for women working on the ground level, trying to raise awareness. It continues to be a struggle in many parts of the world, but we need to try and raise awareness whenever we can, however we can. There is nothing shameful about menstruation or “Periods”.
For me, my period is a part of my life and I am not ashamed of this chapter of my life.
Today is the International Menstrual Hygiene Day and I genuinely want to commit to doing whatever I can, whenever I can, to contribute towards breaking the stigma.
Let us break the silence, for there should be no shame about it!