AFGHANISTAN. Herat: When 19-year-old Halima, from Herat, had her first period, she was afraid. She thought it was a unique illness only she suffered from and felt the pressure from housework on top of the fear for her own health. She also felt she had to keep it a secret because she was ashamed. A group of female volunteers came to her school from the Women Social Equality Association and spread awareness about menstruation and menstrual health.
In an interview with Transcontinental Times, Sonia Ahmadi, a member of this independent association, spoke about the work they do and the challenges they face. Ahmadi said they faced many challenges trying to convince officials, “At first, everyone was ashamed, but when we told girls that this is the reason for human survival on earth, and all women have the problem, Halima and all other girls got comfortable with it.”
Lack of awareness
Many girls have a hard time with their first period since conversations about menstruation are socially uncomfortable. Ahmadi said, “The majority of girls had bitter experiences. Most of them said that no one used the sanitary pads ever and never been told by their family about the issue.”
Women in Afghanistan hide their periods from their families because talking about it is taboo. This issue has not only been avoided but discussing it is also causes many women to feel ashamed.
Most of the women are not aware of their physical and psychological constraints during the menstruation period. Not only do they not have any information about it, but they are also ashamed. “While the Ministry of Education of Afghanistan in the past two years announced the publication of menstrual health guidelines in schools, but so far menstrual health guidelines have not been reached on students,” Ahmadi added.
She continued, “Women in this period, do the heaviest housework, but they can’t tell their family ‘I have a period’ because this is considered a shame.”
The taboo of buying sanitary pads
Amina, a university student, said all the girls are horrified when they first see the blood on their underwear “because they are dictated from a young age that others should not know this issue. Still, women tolerate the pain of the abdomen, and around the waist, in a month, in silence. Buying a sanitary pad is taboo among women.”
She added, “As a woman, I had painful experiences from working during my period. So, I suggest that this issue should be taught for the schoolgirls, and provide health facilities in their working environment.”
For many families in Afghanistan, talking about these issues is sensitive and in most cases, it is even considered a disgrace and shame. In addition, most women are deprived of access to health facilities during their periods.
Access to health facilities and pads
In an interview with Transcontinental Times, Wahida said she had come from a remote area of Herat to study at Herat University. She said, “When a girl has a period in rural areas, people think of her as ‘nasty’ and ‘filthy,’ which leads to heavy harm for the girl. Some even warn the girls they must not to touch others or they will be contaminated by her.”
She feels that in the remote areas of the country, no sanitary pads are never used. Wahida said, “In general, I think just 2% of Afghan women will have access to sanitary pads. Which in major cities this increase by 20 percent.”
“There is not enough health material for use during menstruation. Those who have money can provide these materials, but those who do not have money will have to use a piece of cloth over and over again, which in many cases are not clean enough.”
Unsafe menstrual health leads to other health concerns
Experts say that during menstruation, the health of women is vital. In an interview with Transcontinental Times, Malika Paygham, a female doctor, said, “the use of unsanitary pieces and cleaning the body with an overused piece of clothes causes the release of bacteria inside the uterus, and this will lead to non-pregnancy.”
For many women and girls throughout the country, obtaining sanitary pads is difficult and sometimes impossible. The Women Social Equality Association asks the government to start an activity in this field to increase awareness of menstrual health both in the educational system and for those not in school.
Ahmadi wants the government to make sanitary pads for girls free of charge like Scotland, especially in the country’s rural areas, “There is no health strip for girls. Only in the big cities and it is also considered bad and shame to buy.”