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.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2013 Assignments: Frontline Journals.