Women’s hair is political but the dialogues surrounding PERIODS are discussed in hushed undertones, ironic, right? When a young girl comes of age, the females within the family secretly discuss her coming of age, but none of the males are even told about the arrival of the menstrual cycle.
The woman of today is raised to aspire for equality in all sectors of life, yet we continue the stereotypes associated with periods. The most striking element is that women are nurtured in a manner that forces them to conceal their periods, the period pains and issues pertaining to their menstrual hygiene. Most of them do not have adequate resources to help them during their monthly cycles and even the purchasing of the sanitary wear as well.
For generations, when a young girl comes of age, the women within her family celebrate the stage in secrecy. Young girls are welcomed into womanhood privately, and they are even groomed for the wifely expectations and duties through undergoing processes such as the pulling of the labia minora (also known as Amalebe in Ndebele or Matinji in Shona). With or without their permission or even explanations as to why pulling them is of importance, a rite of passage that would immensely ‘help’ them in their marriage life. If that is the case, then why are we as a society raising the girl child to live in the shadows while at the same time initiating discussions and actions that prepare them for their maternal roles?
Young girls and some older women face stigma surrounding their menses, for example some are forbidden to enter the garden and pluck some vegetables because it is that time of the month, and it is the same predicament with entering the Granary where maize is stored. It is believed that if a woman enters the granary during the period of her cycle, she might risk infecting the maize and that could lead to it turning bad/rotting before being used in a household. As if the above are not enough, Mood swings are a part of the above list, it should be noted that not every female is moody during their menses but it has been instilled in people that all women experiencing their cycles are moody. Not forgetting that one’s hair is not supposed to be plaited by a hairdresser who would have received their cycle as this could result in the shedding off, of one’s hairline. Thus, menstruation is also treated as a curse. Such stigmatic acts birth and exacerbate the awkward behaviour surrounding conversations relating to menstruation and they cement the walls that treat the subject area as a taboo.
What is it that is so unearthing about menstruation blood while everyone has blood coursing through their veins? I mean what is there to be embarrassed about when BLOOD is the essence of our whole being? The fountain of Life. Why can’t we as a society throw period parties (a template borrowed from Dominique Christina’s-Period Poem) in commemoration of the shedding of the Uterus? Initiating discussions around this universal issue should be a priority that is geared at building a foundation of speaking up and owning one’s voice and sexuality. Talks about menstruation should include all the sexes and stakeholders in the child’s life so that everyone can understand what would be happening to the woman receiving her period.
This shame directed at the periods reminds me of a discussion I had with a male counterpart who posed this question: ‘Why do people find it hard to talk about the ordeals they face during their menstruation, or even hide the fact that they are menstruating but then when it comes to sex it’s the same people who are highly vocal and are part of Sex WhatsApp groups? I haven’t heard of a menstruation WhatsApp group where young people share experiences and learn from each other.’ This question signifies the need to create and implement spaces where everyone gets an opportunity to learn and share their experiences.
The same applies to the Laws surrounding work leave granted during the menstrual cycle period. Not all periods are sugar and spice. Some are raging volcanoes and they inconvenience most women. Every woman deserves that break that allows her to be alone with her thoughts, navigate around the intense pain and cramps while at the same time attending to the whims of the discomforts taking place.
Men are brought up to believe that issues associated with women’s health are taboo and cannot and should not be handled by men. However, is society not raising standard and typical conservatives? Such that when given the opportunity to embrace change, they in turn shy away from it. Come to think of it, a high number of men is ashamed of purchasing a pack of pads for their female counterparts. Most of these men even laugh at incidences surrounding menstruation like a woman staining their clothes. But we have entered a period where these negative perceptions need to be eradicated. Why not teach the boy child the importance of menstruation in the circle of life? Why not have him be proud to be literate on menstruation issues?
Yes, we are living in a world where women are yearning for the celebration and acknowledgement of their sexuality, however, that level of freedom can only be achieved through dismantling the silences hovering around the talks concerning menstruation. Let us engage and educate everyone and tell them that there is more to womanhood than just procreation and the biology definitions that never touch base on anything concrete being experienced by the women. Taboos and ideas fuelling period shame should be thoroughly dealt away with. CONVERSATIONS AROUND/SURROUNDING MENSTRUATION SHOULD BE UNIVERSAL, AFTER ALL IT IS A GLOBALLY SHARED EXPERIENCE!