On Monday, I had a bit of a girl's moment with an Amerikan woman working here in Mulanje with Peace Corps. She's running a cloth pad program for the girls in the local school and so that was the topic of conversation. In Africa very few girls go to school, and statistics drop massively as soon as they hit puberty. During their periods, girls tend to stay at home, leading them to get behind on the boys and eventually drop out.
One of the reasons girls don't go to school while they're on their period is shame. Easy period options like pads or tampons or cups are simply not available. The horror of being called out, having it known that they are on their period is just as predominant as in the West, except that here, leaking and bloodstains are much more of a reality.
Insert: cloth pads. Leaking is avoided and girls can just go to school while on their period
Or can they?
Below her breath, my friend whispers that the girls here just haven't learned to 'push through' like we have. They experience their period as an ordeal, they feel squeamish and sick. So they don't go to school. Teachers tend to think the girls are just lazy. My feminine solicitude tingles.
Pushing through is indeed something we have learned in the West, because we don't want to be less than a man, do we? The culture of 'equality for all' has been translated as 'everyone the same', which even was a goal for the first feminist wave. We have learned to ignore and underestimate our clear biological differences. Yet it is unmistakeable that there are differences between man and woman.
One of them is the fact that women have their period about once every month.
Traditional cultures hold a time of separation for women while they are on their period. Our dominant views in the West have translated this as a sexist seclusion from society for something as trivial as a period. We read it as women being unclean, shunned. However, during the separation period, women get a time of rest, healing and restoration. Something much needed during the flow.
If you ask the majority of Western women if they'd rather spend time in seclusion, taking care of themselves and their body while on their period, I figure you get a wholehearted "yes".
That's why the Red Tent movement is gaining such momentum.
So, instead of forcing girls to deny themselves, their feelings, their physical sensations and making their bodies subjects of kyriarchy, let's validate women! Let's all recognise each other and search for a different way of existing in society as a woman. Without lagging behind on the men, but without ignoring our true selves.
Pushing Through - What Kyriarchy has Taught Us About Our Periods