Enter through One Door and Leave through Another

smiling girl in Kabul

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.

By Marzia

Photo: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images


Comments

  1. Brava, Marzia. Brava! There is so much that is haunting and angry-making and painful in this piece. I wish we could go back in time and disappear all of the shame like heavy luggage that people made you carry–just for being a woman, just for being bon into the beautiful, life-giving and life-sustaining body that is yours. I am especially haunted by these lines:

    “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. ”

    And that was only the beginning of the list of powerful images and poignant questions that will stay with me long after I finished reading your piece.

    I am glad that you were able to emerge from this cobweb cocoon of shame. I hope you will never again have to feel that isolation and fear that you felt as a 12 year-old.

    Thank you for sharing this with all of us. I hope you get many readers in many corners of the earth!

    Stacy

  2. What a brave and down-to-earth essay, Marzia. It’s really strange that a woman who grows into puberty is supposed to be privately ashamed, while suddenly so many people treat her body as public property. To different degrees, the same thing happens to young women in the U.S. Thanks for speaking up for all of us.

  3. You’re right, Marzia. You are a beautiful young woman now.

  4. Judy Worm says:

    Marzia, What a great article. I hope it will reach many young women and give them the knowledge that you have obtained, and hopefully save them from the negative feelings about their bodies that you had to endure.

    May God bless you,
    Judy Worm (Steve’s mother)

  5. Elizabeth Titus says:

    Dear Marzia,

    You write with such clarity and insight. Sadly, the situation you describe is not limited to countries like your own. Even in America, when I was growing up, the period was known as “the curse.” How insane is that, when, as you say, a period is a way for life to be created. “No more, no less.” True, true. And yet… the shame associated with it continues to this day. I also remember men using a woman’s period to describe her mood: “She is on the rag.”

    Keep on writing!
    Liz

  6. Nancy Sumner says:

    I feel so badly for the females of the Middle Eastern countries. They are nothing more than cattle in the eyes of the men there. If wars are to be fought, they should be fought for their equal rights and liberation from oppression from these b*tards. Religion has done more harm in this world than good in some countries. People kill & maim in the name of their God. Why would any God require you to inflict pain and suffering on any other human being? If only we could all love one another and live in peace.

  7. This is soooooo beautifully written!! Thank you.

  8. Stephanie Hayes says:

    This was beautifully written! You described your isolation and confusion very well, Marzia. Bravo!

  9. Thank you for sharing this Marzia. You are absolutely right it is a life giving process that should be honored and cherished and never berated. Women should never be made to feel inferior to men.
    A wonderfully written piece. Women all over the world are hearing you.

  10. Brigid says:

    Marzia,
    It is not right that a women’s period is considered Dirty. I find it discussed that you and other girls are treated so disrespectfully because of the natural function that make you women. I hope you know you have the support of a person across the world even if you do not have support from your neighbor. You are not alone.

  11. Marzia,
    This is such a strong and heartbreaking essay. You are very courageous to share it with us. I am so glad that you did not accept what people say about menstruating women. When you are proud of yourself, you claim the power that they are trying to take away from you. I hope to read more of your writing soon.
    Warmly,
    Jill

  12. Very well said, Marzia. I would be interested in how your thinking progressed on this topic to where it is now. Was it sudden or gradual?

    Thanks for your essay and I look forward to reading more.

    Peggy

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