Saturday Jul 10, 2021
Whenever talks of menstruation come up in our society, mum’s the word.
But Aurat Raaj is letting the secret out by guiding discourse around menstruation for women and adolescent girls. In a two-hour 'Period Party’ on Zoom, the social enterprise successfully curated menses as an expression of celebration rather than shame on Friday.
Aurat Raaj is a social enterprise dedicated to educating, empowering and entertaining women on health, hygiene and safety through engaging technology products and services.
Myths and menstruation: Overcoming Pakistan's period taboo
The 'Period Party' was the first of its kind and and included interesting games apart from comfortable conversations around menstruation. Though predominantly female, the audience did also have male participants in meagre numbers.
The session allowed females to revisit personal experiences collectively. It also touched on depiction of menstruation in culture, poetry and mainstream media.
From discussion about hygiene products to debunking myths about menstruation, the session provided new means to talk about the unconventional topic.
Conversations surrounding menarche are either done behind closed doors or just simply ignored.
Aiming to tackle just that, 21-year-old poet VIN, expressed themselves through their poem ‘Landscape Girlhood’.
The poem, their personal experience of menstruation as an adolescent, was the first poem on menstruation for many in the audience.
“Girls become synonymous with worry, becomes synonymous with guilt
You’ll learn to speak well the language of shame. You’ll learn to hide it well,” Vin read.
Read more: The immodest march
A woman health worker from rural Balochistan also shared her experience, highlighting the need to educate both men and women in the province.
“Adolescent girls are scared to even discuss these topics with their mothers. They do not talk about necessary hygiene products - cloth or sanitary napkins. It’s a taboo,” she said.
She spoke about the daily difficulties many girls in Balochistan face and emphasised the need to educate men who have access to markets to purchase necessary hygiene products.
Comedian Natalia Gul Jilani steered the discussion to a lighter side, sharing funny first experiences of menstruation and hygiene products.
Gul is known to educate women about various hygiene products on social media platforms.
“No one ever asked me to talk about periods. I think it would take me a whole month to write about them,” she said.
“Periods are associated with embarrassment. We all need to change that,” she added.
Highlighting menstruation media, the session included clips on menses in western media and a short Pakistani film ‘Baalig’ by multimedia journalist Manal Khan.
A discussion followed the screening about the stark contrast in media representation between the two regions. While western media took a bolder approach, Pakistani content shied away from addressing menstruation properly even in sanitary advertisements.
“I always asked why are there so many men on the team? Their ideas were so divorced. They would’ve been okay in the 90s but not now. Maybe it’s because they haven’t gone through it themselves,” Khan said, sharing her experience of working with Always - a popular brand of menstrual hygiene products.
The only woman on the team, Khan said more women were needed to represent menstruation the right way in media.
Khan said she didn’t see menstruation being represented in Pakistani media till the next year or two.
“It’s a hard bet. It may happen in five years' time. Who knows?”
Her film depicts a single father learning to deal with his daughter’s period. It masterfully deals with the struggle, awkwardness and confusion.
“Something local… so proud,” a participant wrote, praising the film.
The young activist said we should all work towards getting menstruation represented in the media as much as we can.
The two-hour escapade served as a safe space for women to openly discuss their experiences and celebrate periods.
Once COVID-19 dies down, one hopes we see the second iteration of the event in-person.