The monthly (shame) cycle... Stories from the struggle of girls with the patriarchal society

The monthly (shame) cycle... Stories from the struggle of girls with the patriarchal society
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Published: Friday, March 26, 2021



" I was in the classroom when I felt the blood start to wet my body and my clothes; At that time, I learned that I entered the first days of menstruation”. I tried to ask permission to go to the bathroom, but the teacher refused—Reem (nickname) for a girl who shared her story about her menstruation when she was young.


Reem tried to leave the hall to no avail because teachers often find permission to go to the toilet, a form of evasion from the lesson, so the teacher begins to reprimand the student for the request. 


Reem, and many other girls who live inside Syria until now, remember their stories and their beginnings with menstruation. Their families dealt with them since they started the period, and the psychological pressure and fear that accompanied them, and still accompanies them every month.


UN human rights experts have found that “the stigma and shame generated by stereotypes about menstruation have severe impacts on all aspects of the human rights of women and girls; including their human rights to equality, health, housing, water and sanitation, education, work, freedom of religion or belief, a sense of security, healthy working conditions, participation in cultural life, and public life without discrimination."


Rojin Shaweesh, a psychotherapist from Qamishli / Qamishli, says that the girl: “When she has been bullied since then and as a result of experiencing many negative situations that are described as weak traits and characteristics with repetition, this becomes a well-established habit, and embodied recipes that she carries with her until she becomes an adult, and becomes a mother to pass on to her children."



Insist on shame! 


The teacher refused to let Reem out of the room and started scolding her. She says, “I was asked to go out to the board to solve the problem, but I refused, I ran away, arguing that I didn't know the answer, but under his pressure and scolding, he forced me out, and in the end, I did.


Reem continues: "I went out with the chalk in my hand, which started to tremble for fear that the professor or my colleagues would notice bloodstains on my clothes. Which happened because everyone noticed the bloodstains, including the professor, who let me out of the hall and go to the bathroom, but after everyone saw what he had ordered.” 


And because schools in Syria lack sexual education, and the health conditions of female students and what they need during the menstrual cycle are not considered. Therefore, the menstrual cycle period for the student is often a nightmare that she does not wish to come and is apprehensive about it, especially those who do not know when their period will begin and when it will end. 


Reem was feeling the voices of her colleagues, and her teacher was chasing her while she was going to the bathroom, and she began to feel that everyone was talking about her, making fun of her, and what happened to her.


The absence of sexual education in educational schools caused terrible psychological conditions for female students, and the matter was not without bullying. Whether from teachers or administrative staff and sometimes from their classmates. 


After that, Reem was unable to attend the professor's classes again, and she evaded her colleagues, and her studies were affected. She even changed her school to get rid of the psychological fatigue that no longer left her. She concludes with a trembling voice: “I still remember this story, and I do not think it will ever be forgotten.”


Shawish points out that: "bullying a girl's menstrual cycle is an ancient phenomenon, and its names may have changed. However, over time, it has become a culture that societies adhere to, so we find many organizations rejecting women when they are menstruating. And that she is impure, and she is unable to make the right decisions, and her memory cannot be trusted until the woman began describing herself as such and responding to all these stimuli.


Family is not a safe place for girls


 Jane, a Kurdish girl from the city of Derik, was following social media when she followed videos of feminist websites and pages that talked about the stories of her period, and the struggle the girl goes through to get sanitary pads. 


Jane says, “I remember myself, and I felt that the girls the video were talking about, I was one of them, started to stifle, and I couldn't move." Jane adds: "One of the things that frightened me the most was the onset of my period. I struggled every time I tried to get sanitary pads, the family refused to mention it, and it is not permissible for us to ask that from our fathers and brothers, and sometimes from my mother herself.” 


Obtaining sanitary napkins is part of the suffering that girls go through in society; receiving it goes through several stages, fearing the view of society and culture, which considers speaking or publicizing the menstrual cycle as a disgrace to the family.


Jane would ask her little sister, and she would agree with her each time to get her sanitary pads. Finally, she recounts her story: "My sister used to put the towels in a black bag, for fear that passers-by or the neighbors would see her."


The reason for fear in the family, according to Shawish, is that: “The menstrual cycle is related to the woman’s genitals, which indicates the woman’s nakedness, so they linked it to social stigma if there is an indication that the woman is menstruating.” 


Menstruation as a disgrace in society 


Society has set socio-cultural norms that harm women and consider menstruation to be a disgrace to the whole family. It is forbidden to trade, and it is a form of discrimination against women and girls in the local community. 


Society considers menstruating girls to be pollutants, and everyone tries to show that they felt repulsion, disgust, and impurity when talking about menstruation because of society's religious culture, which has turned into a set of customs and traditions that try to restrict women more within a patriarchal system that abuses and oppresses women. 


The Kurdish feminist activist, Mahwish Sheikhi, points to this; She says: "The Kurdish society is a conservative and traditional society, despite the claim of openness and liberation. Therefore, there are many taboos, and approaching these taboos is an adventure, including the menstrual cycle issue.” 

She adds, "The girls themselves still feel anxious and confused, because their subconscious mind finds that the menstrual cycle is an abomination, an impurity, a shame and a stigma." 


Women often give different names to the notoriously unspeakable cycle; Some of them call him "a teaching assistant, an excused woman, or she is on vacation, or I have special circumstances." 


Sheikhi believes that: “Feminists must uncover everything, in the face of the great frustrations that we are experiencing politically and socially, it is necessary to dismantle the existing social, political and economic structures, and to find out all the details. And feminists should call for the adoption of appropriate penalties for bullying women, especially about menstruation and other issues.” 


Absent civil/feminist society 


Talking about feminist issues in Kurdish society was a disgrace, and feminist women were not active in the community; However, after 2011, civil organizations began to be established successively in the Syrian Kurdish region, including women's civil organizations, or those concerned with women's affairs, Civic activity began to become more effective in the local community, and it became one of the decision-making bodies, or at least influence it. 


The war in Syria contributed to breaking social restrictions and taboos imposed on women’s work in society. The large migrations that took place, in addition to the fragmentation of the family between more than one country, allowed many women to speak, work and become active in feminist issues. 


Mahwish Sheikhi, a Kurdish feminist activist, attributes the weakness of feminist civil organizations to the fact that the organizations themselves have not matured sufficiently and are still in the stage of formation and the search for their identity. 


However, despite this, society maintained its patriarchal structure and patriarchal system, and women's organizations could not work and influence society significantly; she, in turn, kept some taboos and did not break them, including the menstrual cycle. Therefore, it has not happened so far that a feminist organization has mobilized and advocated for women's issues related to menstruation. Moreover, she did not psychologically support women exposed to psychological problems because of society's wrong view of the menstrual cycle. She considered it a disgrace to the family and the girl. 



It was found that: "Kurdish feminist organizations are not able to break societal red lines, and as a result of the biggest dilemmas that women suffer from, feminists put all their capabilities into these dilemmas, such as various persecutions, honor killings and violence perpetrated against them." 


She believes that: “Feminists in advanced societies also after stability and the achievement of the citizenship state and the adoption of secular constitutions that guarantee human rights and secure some economic well-being. So, the feminists turn to details like menstruation and bullying.” 


Psychological effect on girls 


Psychotherapy says that women who are bullied because of their period can reach a stage: “self-blame, distrust of others, unusual crying and loss of interest in activities, difficulty concentrating and relaxing, sleep disturbance, weakness in faith and spiritual issues. 


So far, the culture of visiting doctors and psychiatrists has been absent in society because society associates the psychiatrist with madness, loss of mind, and control over behavior. Consequently, people who visit psychiatrists are often bullied and ridiculed by society. In menstruation, women refuse to publicize their psychological problems and refuse to see psychiatrists due to fear of social customs and traditions.


Shawish believes that "the woman herself embodies this culture to become weak and unable to do anything, and as she sees herself impure and impure." She points out that the failure to disclose these cases is that: "They have become part of the culture of society, and something related to the spiritual side, and even the woman has become a believer in that." 


Menstruation can cause fear in girls and young men, a lack of self-confidence, and a feeling of inferiority, according to Shawish. 


Shawish calls for: “understanding the symptoms of menstruation and dealing with them, regulating feelings, and psychological education about the menstrual cycle, normalize the physiological and psychological symptoms that accompany menstruation and reduce the sense of stigma, shame, shame, and confusion and work on training them to empathize with themselves and acceptance, and activate the resources and resources related to this issue.” 


The patriarchal system controls the structure of society, and this system identifies a set of issues and issues related to women within taboos that individuals cannot break and links it directly to family honor and shame. Thus, including the menstrual cycle, which society considers to be a talk about family honor, and transgressing it means transcending the morals set by society. This siege imposed on girls and women leaves behind psychological crises, social problems, violence, and other oppression against them, which they do not have until now; The ability to speak out, in the absence of a law protecting them, a civil society supporting them, and the media highlighting their suffering.



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