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Mavera Rahim

Pakistani students are staging a period protest

The students are trying to challenge the taboo around menstruation that exists in the country

For many women and girls in Pakistan and India today, having a period is seen as a shameful thing. The taboo around menstruation is such that, according to 2010 figures, 23 per cent of women drop out of school permanently when they start their periods.

Now a group of female students at university in Lahore are trying to fight this taboo. The six women, who study at Beaconhouse National University, have been pinning sanitary towels to the walls of their college, bearing slogans such as “periods make us hornier” and “I’m not flawed or poorly made”. They also staged a performance piece in which they daubed red paint on their white kameezes (a traditional south Asian garment) to mimic menstrual bloodstains.

Their move comes months after a group of women in India launched a #HappyToBleed campaign in response to the announcement from Sabrimala temple chief Prayar Gopalakrishnan that he wanted a machine capable of scanning menstruating women.

One of the students involved in the protest, Mavera Rahim, posted a statement on Facebook explaining the group’s motivations. “The protest was against the stigma attached to menstruation and the sharmindagi (shame) with which we discuss it. We are made to put pads in brown paper bags when we buy them, we are made to talk about periods in hushed voices as if it’s a dirty secret, and all in all made to act as if it is something we should hide more so than other bodily functions, when it’s really a natural part of our biology. Several women contract diseases because they are not fully informed of hygienic practices when it comes to menstruation because very few people will actually discuss it. Over centuries and across different cultures, people have approached menstruation differently, some celebrating it and some shaming menstruating women. Our idea was to break this taboo around the subject in our society.”

The campaign has generated a positive reaction on social media, with many applauding the students for the imaginative way they’re challenging Pakistani cultural attitudes towards menstruation.