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I Colored the Red, Blue

Running and chasing with friends during the lunch break, I felt something warm flow slowly down my legs. When I reached a narrow space between two buildings in my school, I squatted, lowered my head and took a look between my legs. It was red. I panicked; I shouldn’t have run. And then I was running to my class and also not trying to run at the same time.

I ran to my class trying to hide from everybody probably even myself. I took out a pen from my bag and poured out all its blue ink and colored the red spots on my skirt and trousers into blue.

Ashamed, guilty, startled, angry, sad…

I was ashamed and guilty because I thought I have done something wrong; I was running. Having no knowledge about what was happening to me, left me startled and panicked. Feeling hot and chilled at the same time, guilt was running in all my veins and I was angry and sad because I thought I was not a good person anymore.

Simply, I did not know about me.

Hiding myself and my dirty clothes in my wide shawl, I spent the day finishing all my ink and finally reached home. I rushed to find some sheets which I don’t know if they were clean to use or not and used them to stop the flow from dirtying my clothes. I collected my dirty school uniform and put in under the box of shoes. I was scared.

When it was dark and nobody paid attention to me, I sneaked out, went to the dressing room and took out my clothes and the dirty sheet. I did not know where the soap and detergent was, I poured some dishwashing liquid on my clothes and washed all the stains away. I put them behind the trees to dry where it was safe of being seen.

I am telling you about the story of eight or nine years ago, the story of blood, the dark side of blood. I am sure there are many other stories like this, specifically in Afghanistan, that are untold. There are many other girls who do not know what is happening to them when their menstrual period starts. Or they know what it means but do not know what to do next. They get scared, they take unhealthy methods during their menstruation because either they do not have any knowledge or they are forced and expected to hide this very alive fact about their life and their sexuality.

It was a long time ago, but I still wish I had known about what was happening to me so that it was a bit easier for me to undergo at least my first menstrual period. If I knew about it in a good way, as a normal thing, I wouldn’t hate it that much that I did then, to hate my adulthood, my womanhood. It was not only about womanhood, it was about “impurity”.

Unknowingly and just for the sake of hiding, I undertook many unhygienic methods. I would hide my sheets under boxes, beds or in holes around the house where it is not sanitary at all. Many other girls I know also have used pieces of old clothes to prevent the flow at some point in their lives. Washed in hidden places and not sun-dried these sheets and pieces can lead to different kinds of diseases.

Menstruation is just one aspect of sexual life for young girls that repeatedly happens a lot and still goes unexplained about before it happens and thus makes their social lives much harder.

Pelvic-related diseases are highly correlated to the unhygienic menstrual methods and it also directly and indirectly lead to maternal mortality and sometimes to secondary infertility. Afghanistan is rated the second highest in maternal mortality. To name, second wives for men is a usual practice which mostly is due to lack of ability to bear children or unhappiness in sexual lives because of types of diseases or lack of knowledge about sex and sexuality.

This writing relates to only one side of sex education, menstruation; however, sex education can be about anything regarding our sexes, sexuality and our bodies. According to Babylon Dictionary “sex education” is “instruction on topics related to human sexuality and reproduction (e.g. anatomy, birth control, etc.)” Such as, especially in Afghanistan birth control is another very import factor that people should be educated about. And thus, they are all important to be taught about and to learn about. Parents whom you could ask about anything, is good source of knowledge. It is our right to understand how our bodies work and how we can take a good care of it. And so, primarily, parents or schools can give accurate information.

The first time I heard from my mother about menstruation was when she found some dirty sheets and scolded me for not hiding them and that I should be ashamed. There was no other talk on the matter or about sex or sexuality for it is prohibited to talk about it. Usually, parents think that if they talk about sex or sexuality to children, it will corrupt them and encourage them to practice it in different ways. They think sex talks corrupt the children and youth especially when they think it is not the time. This is probably because their parents thought the same way and they had the same condition as us too.

Sexuality is much more than just the act of intercourse. It is an integral part in all of us; it is one dimension of our personality. It gives us an identity and the whole experience of being a woman. It involves values, thoughts, feelings, and relationships. However, in my society it is considered only in the limitation of the act of intercourse. Thus, due to unacceptability of publicity regarding sexual intercourse especially before marriage, all talks about sex and sexuality is made almost a topic not to be discussed at all.

There is no proper knowledge about sexuality. “In my society people get to act before they get any knowledge about sex and practices related to sexuality; they experience first and realize the education afterwards,” explains a girl of age 21. Thus, this experience can be a healthy experience or practice or an unhealthy one due to lack of knowledge.

I asked 14 girls to answer my questions about the topic; only 4 accepted my request for the interview; and they answered only some question not willing to answer all telling me the questions were hard for them to answer. A girl who talks about sexuality is considered shameless and corrupt. This concept makes it harder for girls to explain about their sexual life and talk and learn about sex and sexuality from each other or knowledge sources such as parents or teachers. And thus it becomes a habit not to talk about this forbidden issue. “I have grown up in a very conservative society where talking about sex and sexuality is not something we can do in public, at schools, at home etc. Hence, I too do not often dare to talk or ask about sex and sexuality very comfortably,” says an Afghan girl whom I asked why it was awkward or hard for them to answer my questions.

A 21 years old student currently studying at university level recalls one of her biology classes in school. She talks about her biology teacher, a female, who closed the book when she had to explain about human sexual anatomy and said, “This is not something to talk about, you can read it by yourselves if you want”.

If a teacher/educator’s reaction to sex knowledge shows that it is not a normal and healthy discussion how can a student convince herself that it is a healthy discussion or topic to learn about. In the entire 12 year curriculum at school, only in 12th grade there is a small section in biology course that talks about sexuality and human sexual anatomy. There are no other programs in the duration of learning at school that we would learn about sexuality.

I, personally, got a proper knowledge about menstruation from reading it in my biology book in 12th grade which means when I was around 18 years old. When older, in university, I had a much better source for my information about sex and sexuality, the internet. It will be much effective if this topic is included in the school curriculum of grade 6 and 7 because that is the time when girls usually get their first menstruation experience. Besides, other sources as internet and informative books can be helpful too.

Indeed, now I know much more than my mother does about some topics regarding menstruation and sexuality generally and I am old enough for her to talk comfortably. We are able to exchange information and have discussions. Thus, I would say that education can change everything as it changed my relation to my mother about sexuality.

Schools and teachers as primary educational source should not be reluctant to educate students about sex and sexuality. Unfortunately, there are many people in Afghanistan who do not even go to school which makes their parents the primary source for this knowledge. Thus, there is an urgent need to acknowledge parents that there is nothing wrong and disadvantageous about teaching their children regarding their own bodies.

First of all, it is important to acknowledge parents especially mothers who can be the first dealers of this issue in their daughter’s lives. Discussion and education about sex should be taken out from private sphere and brought into public sphere as an important part of us and our bodies so that it is considered a normal procedure and knowledge in a normal person’s life.

A good way to solve this issue is the example of India where “WaterAid has effectively confronted and integrated menstrual hygiene management in WASH programs. They established clubs for open discussion about menstrual hygiene for both men and women, encouraged and promoted use of low-cost sanitary pads, and providing sanitary pads at toilets” (WASH and Menstrual Hygiene Management)

To raise the awareness of adolescent Afghan girls on their health, hygiene and menstruation, educational sessions and projects should be conducted not only in schools and by parents but also in small acceptable collectives and communes such as mosques. Conducting classes on women and womanhood is a very positive method not only educate to parents but also break the concept in people’s minds that sex education is not necessary.

Another Afghan girl’s shares her thoughts on the benefits of sex education:
Parents are a good source for getting sex education from. But they think it is not really a necessary education. If the parents lack proper parenting and lack how to educate their children about sex and sexuality, school can be a good source where teenagers get sex education. They are good sources because sex and sexuality becomes a very normal and healthy discussion. This way young people will not peen into unhealthy sources, like porn websites, which could have health consequences for teenagers.

I hope one day everybody and every young girl, if not proud, will not to be ashamed of their menstruation because they will know that it is a normal part of their lives and have learned how to leave back their menstrual period without any discomfort and intervention in their regular lives.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Comments

bitani's picture

Bravo!

Rabia i believe this is a very important topic and i am glad you brought it up. Your story is really touching and it is good to speak out on these childhood memories.

Here in Lebanon, sex education is not that spread but students in high schools and universities have a glimpse of it.But again, teens know nothing about the issue, and i've heard many stories of girls who mensturated but never knew what's happening to them.

Also, i believe the presence of digital media and the internet today makes sex education a necessity, because if no decent education is offered to the teenagers, they may access and/or get exposed to wrong and untrustworthy information about it.

rabia.salihi's picture

Thank you!

Thank you for your precious words. You're right. In many countries this situation is almost the same. I recently knew about Bengali girls and their stories in a conversation with them. There is not much difference in what we face and what they face because of menstruation. And yes, digital media and internet does have some negative effects too besides being a good source of knowledge for topics that we can't easily talk about.
Cheers,
Rabi

rabi

pelamutunzi's picture

totally agree

i agree with you and i say until we realise the importance of this great subject women will remain victims in society. your situaion and experience veryt alike the ones here. my assignment was written on similar issue. i feel it is an important subject not getting enough support.
#
thank you for the shared experiences i totally loved your powerful piece

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest.
regards
pela

rabia.salihi's picture

We spoke out!

Dear Pela,
Thank you for leaving me your encouraging words. I read your article. I just couldn't imagine in the situation that you described in the beginning of your article. In that age usually we are very sensitive to our bodies because it is changing and also because our societies expect us to be sensitive. The parts of the topic, such as menstruation or sex education, that we should be concerned about or give importance to is pushed to be hidden but the ones that shouldn't be important, such as virginity or sexual activities or orientation , are made a big deal of. But, we are going to bring change because I spoke out and you spoke out. We took it out to the public sphere because it was just invisible in the private sphere even more private than being in the private sphere of home and just something not important. Our voice and the power to speak out makes us powerful.
Cheers,
Rabi

rabi

Iryna's picture

Great work

Rabia, it's impossible to overestimate the importance of the issue you speak about! I am from the country where a famous expression was born: "There is no sex in the USSR." I never, for my 34 years, discussed sex life with my mother. The first reaction of her on my menstruation was a hit to the face - someone told her that if to do it then it will not hurt in the future. What a barbarian could invent this, seriously! Next menstruations hurt so I thought maybe it was because my mother didn't slap me immediately. I understand now how awful was that thought!

Such issues were and still are taboo for many women, but I know, my daughter will have enough of information.

Thank you, Rabia, for the article, it's written great and provoked so many emotions in me!

Greetings from Ukraine,
Iryna

rabia.salihi's picture

A good point!

Thank you for bringing up the fact that most of us share the similar grief about this certain part of our lives. A hard hit on the face as something that will decrease the pain in the future is I think similar in many societies because I read somewhere else too. And yes, you make a good point. If we were not able to control our lives then we can ensure that our little sisters, our daughters and the generation after us will not face the same difficulty and shame.
Cheers,

rabi

Susan Alvey's picture

Well Done!

Rabia - this is a fantastic and important story to tell. You highlight basic life issues which I have always taken for granted here in the US. You do a wonderful job of describing not only the embarrassing effect on you, but the adverse societal impact of having no education about menstruation and sexual practices. Brava!

rabia.salihi's picture

Thank you!

Dear Susan, thank you for your kind words and yes it shouldn't be something taken for granted.
Cheers,

rabi

Y's picture

Education is the answer. Both

Education is the answer. Both men and women must put aside religious taboos and magical thinking about virgin births and begin understanding and discussing the healthy ways to meet one of the greatest impulses (procreation) any living being has.

"A good way to solve this issue is the example of India where “WaterAid has effectively confronted and integrated menstrual hygiene management in WASH programs. They established clubs for open discussion about menstrual hygiene for both men and women, encouraged and promoted use of low-cost sanitary pads, and providing sanitary pads at toilets” (WASH and Menstrual Hygiene Management)

To raise the awareness of adolescent Afghan girls on their health, hygiene and menstruation, educational sessions and projects should be conducted not only in schools and by parents but also in small acceptable collectives and communes such as mosques. Conducting classes on women and womanhood is a very positive method not only educate to parents but also break the concept in people’s minds that sex education is not necessary."

Thank you for your insightful article, Rabia.

Blessings.
Yvette

Y

rabia.salihi's picture

Important point!

Dear Yvette,
You're to the point. If we are to bring change, education is the basic need for that and also that it should be for both men and women not matter what that education is about. Thank you for pointing it out.
Cheers,

rabi

delphine criscenzo's picture

Universal topic

Dear Rabia,

Thank you for this very moving and thoughtful piece. What a problem that young women would be made to feel ashamed about a cycle that happens naturally and that allows women to give birth. What is it about sex and sexuality that frightens people? I am not sure.
I have a friend who celebrates her menstrual cycle every month. She loves herself for it and has a full understanding of its power. I remember thinking when I first saw her wearing a red shirt on her period that she was a little too happy to have her period and that she should feel like me that this was a pain, a curse. I since have changed my mind and have learned to accept the power that comes with menstruating and have embrassed my femininity fully. I wonder if the way I was raised, my parents never talked about sex, had a role to play. I knew what periods were and that I was suppose to get them but I did not know what to do when they came. I told my mother and she bought me a flower. Still I had no clue why she would want to celebrate and for a long time I wished I did not menstruate.

Open conversations and dialogue is always the way to go!
Thanks for your piece.

Delphine Criscenzo

rabia.salihi's picture

Beautiful practice!

Dear Delphine,
Thank you for sharing about your friend. She is such a true inspiration. I love her story.
Cheers,

rabi

Y's picture

Why We Fear Sexual Subjects

It was for many years, impossible to control the procreative process and all it entailed. Lack of control over any process that can potentially take all your resources, including your life, is a rational reason for fear. I certainly don't see anything good coming out of continuing to have children in societies that simply use them as sources of slave labor and killing. We now have means to control conception that are almost impossible to detect, contraception control implants for women and vasectomies for men. We are now empowered, if we will only use these gifts responsibly.

Pain without a purpose is one reason to resent our monthly cycles, especially if we have no desire to, or intention of, giving birth. The inability of some women to function through their monthly pain gives reason for others to resent the inclusion of these women in their partnerships. Someone has to pick up the baton and carry it for the ailing member(s) of every team. Hygiene during this time can also cost much time and other resources. These are real issues with which all in relationships with women must contend, but we don't want to address these issues as obstacles to inclusion with equal responsibility.

Pregnancy creates the same types of problems for productivity, sometimes as a permanent impediment. There are many kinds of damage to the woman's body as it carries and delivers the baby that literally breaks open her body. My youngest child is 39 years old. I required four surgeries over the years to correct problems precipitated by childbirth. I constantly deal with pelvic dislocation and urinary incontinence problems that are very common in the birth process. We attempt to deny these realities by focusing on the very short time that we may have the hormones that help us deny the real physical cost of bringing a new life into the world.

I, as a mother, had very little support for my motherhood. I was panic stricken that either of my children would cause a baby to be brought into the world before they had adequate resources to support the child. I knew that neither of my children would be willing to abort their conceptus, and that the responsibly would fall on me without my having the commensurate authority over my child's child.

I knew that I was already struggling to survive the many years it took to bring my own children to the point that they could contribute more to the earth than they took out of it. I did not consider expanding my gene pool something that would necessarily bear good fruit. I certainly did not feel prepared for the immense investment of my waning resources in a new generation.

I am grateful that I had access to control over my menstrual cycles, as well as my reproductive power ,with the use of oral contraception. There seems to me no more excuse for the abuse of children. No unwanted child should be brought into the world, especially into a world without adequate resources to cherish them. Reproductive hormones are part of our being parts of nature. We can now control these hormones and must take this awesome responsibility to the earth's children upon ourselves.

We women now have authority over our bodies; we must be willing to also accept our responsibility in controlling them. My ninety-three year old Appalachian Mountain Mama says, "Anybody without enough sense to take care of a chicken shouldn't be allowed to have a child." I couldn't agree more. This applies to men and women, in my opinion.

Y

Maura Bogue's picture

Captivating

Strong title and piece! The way you start with your personal story is captivating, and your message about the importance of education to stop the shaming and issues connected to menstruation is well-argued and -articulated. Your part about menstruation being part of sex education is a little vague though. When you asked the 14 girls, did you ask them about menstruation, sexuality or both? Maybe you could clarify this to strengthen the information.

rabia.salihi's picture

Thank you!

Dear Maura,
Thank you for pointing out the vagueness in that part. I will surely consider your feedback.
Cheers,

rabi

swatimehta's picture

Touching story

Almost all of us remember the story of our first period. More often than not the first time always took us by surprise feel angry, sad and confused at the same time. Your story is very close to home.

A natural, biological cycle has been turned into a stigma by the society. Awareness and education is the way to change this mindset. You address the issue very well.

rabia.salihi's picture

Universal Issue!

Dear Swatimehta,
Thank you for reading the article and your priceless comment. Now I truly believe that it really is a universal issue. Thank you.
Cheers,

rabi

Neelia Seyer's picture

Beaming with pride

Congratulations my dear Rabia! This was beautifully written and deeply moving. So proud to be your mentor. Keep doing what you do best, you have my all-out support.

dont_give_up's picture

Important topic and great write up

Hello Rabia,

Thanks for bringing up such an important topic, which is not often discussed but makes the most important part of every girl's life in this world. I agree completely with you that the education and transparent conversation with someone trustworthy is a must for a little girl moving into this phase of life. A strong foundation built by such education and discussion will go a long way in improving every woman's health, confidence and her relationships as she grows old.
Please keep up the good work as you are doing to improve this in your part of the world. I support you and your efforts wholeheartedly.

Good luck.
dont_give_up

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