Years ago, I came across a verse from the Book of Genesis that reads, “To the woman, God said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in child bearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you’- Genesis 3:16. It says many things. It reveals the man-made illusion regarding sufferings of women.
In my grandmother’s words, they only grow muscles to be men; we have to endure unspeakable pain to be women! How many of the men out there know the pain a girl has to bear during her child birth or every month in their menstrual cycle? To men, period is soemthing funny. They make jokes, funny comments, make trolls on social media and sometimes call women ‘overdramatic’ when they share about their abdominal aches clinically called dysmenorrhoea, post and pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and their unusual cranky behaviour due to fluctuation of hormones in the body.
Incidentally, dysmenorrhoea may happen due to genetic backgrounds of painful periods, fibroids in uterus, endometriosis or many other reasons.
Dysmenorrhoea is dreadful sometimes. Speaking of the excessive pain many women said, it feels like a continuous punch from inside out of the abdomen.
“It feels there is no oxygen to breath. The legs get numb. You cannot stand, sit or not even lie in the bed,” explaining her pain said an office worker Sumaiya living in Rajarbagh Police Lines area in the capital.
We have reached the peak of development and scientific excellence, but when it comes to women’s reproductive health or menstruation the ‘world of men’ suddenly becomes stiff and reserved.
While talking to a male friend I asked a few days ago, “Do you know how painful period cramps are?” He replied reluctantly, “How painful? Maybe the pain is like a stomach bug for gas.” He looked clueless, because, the clue was never given. He is a single man, working for a government organisation.
Our mothers do not utter the word ‘period’ in front of their male children. They never see their mother going through enormous abdominal and back pains every month for 1-3 days. And then the ‘unspoken’ becomes ‘unbearable’ for other girls in the long run.
There are many men who realise the severity of menstrual cramps if they are sensitive enough to see their wives suffering. Many of them understand how hormonal fluctuations affect women’s moods. But again, they are very few in number. Most of the men are still in dark.
They, most of the time, spend more time to see the female body rather than know it. They pay less attention to the pain occurring in the female body, and rather enjoy the beauty only. The body contains various hormones. The fluctuation in those hormones make imbalance in brain chemistry causing emotional changes in women and mood swings. A strange world that men are totally unaware of!
A university friend of mine Tanzeema (pseudonym) used to endure unbearable pain every month on her first day of period. She used to miss classes at the time.
After years when I contacted her to know how she manages now as a job holder during the period, she expressed her disappointment with heavy heart.
“I met with people who think their coworkers are incompetent and weak to work abreast with men as they keep sick all the time. They mean PMS, PMD and menstrual cramp when they say ‘keep sick’ all the time,” she elaborated.
Adding to the above point she said, often one can find male colleagues or employers saying hiring women is not convenient as they get sick and then there is maternity leave.
Through one of her Facebook post related to this topic, I talked to a Dhaka University student of economics department, Usha.
She said, “What do I do? Shall I stop menstruating? I have ovaries, men don’t. And it hits. The organ has some business to do. If I don’t bleed your family will not extend.” One of her male friend passed comment, “Oh tigress! Our feminist.”
The agitation, that Usha showed, is pushed out by scores of discriminations and injustice done to women over the years. The vigorous pain and emotional ups and downs shall be addressed- in school, college and office and within the home.
A Class VIII student Ariana (pseudonym) of the capital’s Pen Field School said, the students do not get proper education about reproduction health. It has been, incidentally, a common practice in our country skipping the chapter of the biology book that explains reproductive organs and functions in the school.
It has been made a taboo to talk about sex education or reproduction health.
Ariana and her generation in the urban area have Google, luckily. She knows the contraction in the ovaries create cramps through Google search, and that is a matter of great hope.
But again, the question is how a physical pain can be recognised without turning it to be disease, especially for the working women?
The taboo must go. Many working women during filing this piece said, talking period can help overcoming a lot of physical vulnerabilities. It includes not only cramp during period, but other reproduction health related conditions.
Professor Kaberi Gayen, chairperson of the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism of Dhaka University (DU) said, the key obstacle in our society is the taboo of talking about period.
“I caught fever during my HSC exam due to menstrual cramp. I saw my mother then trying to keep that secret from my brother,” she told a Prothom Alo correspondent.
“We need social campaign to raise awareness about reproduction health. Girls, women and moreover people need to be provided with knowledge of reproduction health of women and its treatment and care,” she explained.
Speaking of the physical sufferings due to menstrual cramp the DU professor said, “Many offices provide a form to mention about special physical condition before appointment of an employee. Menstrual aches can be included in such lists. There is no alternative to sensitivity and awareness of the concerned organisation regarding this matter.”
Menstruation, a natural physical condition happens differently in different women. Some women face severe aches while some go through emotional fluctuation. Men never experience the conditions. They will never understand the rigorous pain until we tell them how bad it is. We may not punch them in their tummy or make them feel sad but can explain.
Few private companies in India to have started menstrual leave policies in recent months. Menstrual leaves are recognised in few other countries in Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea and Zambia. The policy of menstrual leave might be an ambitious dream in our society. What we can at the very least expect is the authorities not to ask for a prescription to file sick leave if a female worker takes a day off for severe abdominal cramps.