I was twelve years old when it happened. I didn’t know what it was. I was too shy to tell my mother so I told my sister. I thought that maybe I did something wrong. I looked younger than my age and my mother never thought to tell me about my period. There was no Internet where I could look it up and I couldn’t ask my friends at school. The Taliban didn’t let me go to school.
My sister gave me one of her cloths and told me how to use it. I didn’t want anyone else to see, so I got up early in the morning to wash it. I worried that there would be blood on my clothes so I wore baggy clothes. I did not know what to do about the pain.
Overnight, I was supposed to be a different person. I was not allowed to play with dolls anymore. It was time for me to act like an adult. I had to learn to cook. I had to do more household chores. My relatives could start thinking about me as a marriage candidate. I became very dirty all of a sudden. The word for period is mariz. This means unclean, ill, or invalid. There were elaborate cleansing rituals I was expected to follow.
There were arbitrary rules. I was not allowed to plant flowers in the dirt because I was too dirty. Even my eyes were now dirty. Women who have their periods are not permitted to see dead bodies after they have been washed for a funeral. One glance from a woman during her period renders the corpse unclean as well.
But that was only the beginning. My sister told me I was not supposed to say my prayers while on my period. She gave me a religious book full of such restrictions. I could not touch the Quran or go to the mosque. If I had to go to the mosque when I had my period, I was required to enter through one door and leave through another.
Ramadan was the most difficult. Women on their periods were not supposed to fast. So my brothers wouldn’t ask questions, I would get up for suhar, the pre-dawn meal that sustains everyone fasting through the day. At work I was afraid the men would notice if I ate lunch instead of fasting, so I fasted.
When I went to the market the men called me names they had never used with me before: degrading words like siasar and zaiefa. There are a lot of other swear words relating to a woman on her period.
This was a lot of trauma for a twelve-year-old girl. Suddenly, I wasn’t me anymore. I was a dirty person who wasn’t even allowed to pray for help. I could not talk about it with anyone except my sister. My relatives thought they had the right to pinch my breasts and tell me my nose was bigger. I see things differently now. I see that getting my period is the most natural thing in the world. God designed me so I could deliver one of his creations into the world. It should have been a cause for celebration and thankfulness through prayer. It should have given me power instead of taking it away.
The rituals and the labels only increase this sense of powerlessness. It is another way for men to make women feel inferior. Men and women are different. But men see their physiology as normal and a woman’s as not. But if God made women and men, why would one be superior to the other?
The truth is that a period is a biological process created by God to enable women to have children. No more. No less. It does not make women unclean. It does not entitle men to restrict what a woman can do. It should never cause a woman to feel powerless and alone.
Photo: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images