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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 29 May 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Breaking the Silence on Menstruation




By Bina Shah

May 29th, 2015

We have a lot of days related to women on the calendar, but May 28th is one that I hadn’t heard about before: Global Menstrual Hygiene Day.

I was alerted to this by Irise International, an NGO that addresses inadequate Menstrual Hygiene Management in developing nations. Irise educates girls and women about their periods, supports local social businesses where women make reusable sanitary products, and conducts research to find out the effectiveness of their programs.

Menstrual periods, which are natural and happen to every girl and woman around the world, can actually be a problem for women who are economically disadvantaged.

Without the resources to manage their hygiene during days they have their periods, they may not be able to go to school or university, or their jobs, and their abilities to make good decisions about their menstrual health are compromised.

This results in more gender inequality and disempowerment.

There’s also a campaign which challenges the taboos of writing about menstrual hygiene, which I am breaking by writing about this very important topic on World Menstrual Hygiene Day.

It is especially important to break the silence on this topic, so that millions of young girls every year don’t see their period as a disability, but a natural, normal part of their lives.

We need this all over the world, including Pakistan, where although girls are not ostracised from society during their periods, not having access to sanitary pads or toilets makes a girl a prisoner of her home during her period.

She can’t go to school if she can’t find pads to wear, or a toilet in which to change them in the school premises.

So, why not speak up about it today? In our culture, we’re brainwashed into thinking that we should be ashamed about periods, that we should keep it to ourselves.

It was a revolution when commercials for sanitary products started to appear on television.

“Sharam” and “Haya” are still words used to condemn conversations about menstruation; important conversations that we need to have with our children, girls and boys, about these facts of life.

In the early days of Islam, people would ask the Prophet (PBUH) about technicalities regarding menstruation and prayer, without any shame. Then, information was more important than sensibilities.

This is an attitude that we need to bring back into our conversations, but also our attitudes, towards all matters related to sexual and reproductive health. Periods change lives, and they're nothing to be ashamed of.

We, women, are the bringers of new life into the world, and our periods are a part of that process. If you have a daughter who’s of an age where she’s menstruating or about to start, share this information with her.

You can help break the silence surrounding this neglected issue today here.

May 28th marks the Global Menstrual Hygiene Day, which was created to publicly recognise the right of women to hygienically manage their menstruation wherever they are.

Bina Shah is a writer and columnist in Karachi; she is the author of the novel Slum Child and A Season for Martyrs.