I was twelve years old when it happened. I will never forget that terrible feeling.
I was so scared that I almost fainted. I thought I did something wrong or I was seeing my own death. I was very little so my mother had not mentioned anything about it to me. It was during the Taliban regime. There was no school or internet for me to learn from. I came out of the toilet and called my older sister with tears running down my face and a shaky voice.
When I showed my sister, she laughed and slapped me on the face.
“Why are you hitting me? I swear I didn’t do anything” I said.
My sister saw the fear on my face and laughed again.
“You got your sickness! I slapped you so your face would have some blush,” she told me.
My sister’s behavior didn’t answer the hundreds of questions that were going through my head. It only added to my concern. What does it mean that I have my sickness? In Persian slang used in Afghanistan, the word for “sickness (marizi)” is used interchangeably with the word “period (adat-e-mahwar)”. My sister gave me one of her cotton fabrics and showed me how to use it.
Everything changed overnight.
My sister told my mother. Realizing that another one of her other daughters had reached the age of puberty and marriage made my mother cranky and unhappy. Suddenly, everyone had advice for me. My mother told me to stop playing with dolls and start focusing on learning how to do chores and housework. She said I should cook more often. My aunt was at our house that night and she started talking about how she wants me to marry her son and it is not proper for young girls to remain at their parents’ house for too long.
My other sister gave me a book that listed all the rules for women to follow when they are on their periods. Suddenly I had turned into an “unclean” human who wasn’t allowed to do most of my daily routines. Even my eyes were considered unclean now.
I wish everything ended there.
Ramadan was the hardest and most painful time. Women don’t have to fast during Ramandan if they are pregnant or on their period, but I would still wake up for Suhoor (meal before dawn), because I was afraid my brothers or father would ask questions. Sometimes I would event pretend to stand and pray.
During my Quran class, they would ask any woman or girl that had their period to leave the room whenever they recited a chapter that required ablution. It is believed by some traditional religious leaders that women shouldn’t read or touch the Quran when they are on their periods. A lot of the girls, including myself, would not leave the classroom because we were embarrassed. We didn’t want everyone to know that we were on our periods.
Washing my period cloths were the also hard. I would have to wash them when my father and brothers weren’t home. I had to dry them in the back of the house so no one would see it in the yard.
These strict rules around menstruation made me and most other girls feel inferior and embarrassed of our bodies. It is true that men and women are different, but biological differences do not have to be translated into one seeking superiority over the other. Women’s bodies should not be stigmatized for their natural functions. In fact, it is because of menstruation that women are able to have children. It is not a disease but a normal and necessary part of being female. This is something that we should be proud to have, not something that makes us feel guilty, ashamed or inferior.
*Author’s name has been changed because of security concerns.
This piece was translated to English by Maryam Laly. A volunteer for Free Women Writers, Maryam is passionate about human rights issues. She has a degree in Government with minors in Peace Studies and Arabic from St. Lawrence University.
Read this piece in Persian here.