If you haven’t already heard, Pakistan’s Federal Censor Board (FCB) has banned the screening of Padman, on account of the subject being “taboo”, “sensitive” and “not acceptable yet in our society”. They reasoned that it is “against our traditions and culture”. It has been reported that some of the officials flat out refused to even watch it to verify their claims.

I was looking forward to the movie, and fortunately, it was screened in Berlin, albeit to a rather empty theater. There were about 7 people in a cinema that can seat about 250 people. I guess the taboo reaches much farther than I thought.

After watching the movie, I am even more perplexed than before about why the FCB banned it from screening in Pakistan? What is it about chums (period, ‘that time of the month’, aunt flo, whatever you wanna call it), women and awareness that terrifies our censor board into making such ridiculous decisions?

I want to know why can’t we talk about periods? While I understand that it might not be an appropriate topic for dining table discussions in our hypocritical society, it certainly deserves discussion as the state of hygiene and awareness in our local population is dire – 79% of Pakistani women do not properly manage menstrual hygiene, according to Dr Nasreen Akbar, K-P Health Department Director. This means that 79% of our women are exposed to diseases that can otherwise be easily avoided.

Back to the movie – after watching it, I am still confused as to what the fuss is about. Do our men nit know that women get chums? Or it is too disgusting for general population to acknowledge even though it plays such an important role in fertility. Or is it the because some nincompoops in our society imagine it to be sexual or related to sex?

While I can’t relate to the stigma, I strongly believe that Padman should be be screened in Pakistan because:

  • Firstly, women bleed for a couple of days about every month. Hashtag true story. The process is as natural as breathing. Talking about it in relation to health and hygiene should be promoted. In fact, it needs to be promoted.
  • Secondly, the movie talks about wide-spread lack of awareness in majority of Indian population regarding menstrual hygiene and the surrounding unnecessary taboo. It is important for both men and women to understand that periods do not make a woman untouchable or any less competent. If she feels up to it, she can go about her life without anyone being the wiser.
  • Third, it’s a story of a man who is crazily in love with his wife, and goes on inventing things to make her life easier. He starts with an onion cutter and advances to understand cellulose fiber versus cotton. It is inspirational on all levels – personal and professional.

If you think women in Pakistan do not need to know about it, think again!  Millions of women in our country still use cloth. They are exposed to diseases, which can go as far as infertility for life. Currently, we do not have any existing policies that support the creation and implementation of proper menstrual hygiene management conditions.

At home, many* girls and women in rural and suburban areas do not have adequate access to water and sanitation. Then, sanitary napkins don’t come cheap – the last time I bought a pack of Always in Dec 2017, it was for Rs.350.

Many schools have failed to provide private and hygienic places for washing and changing of sanitary napkins, as well as facilities for proper disposal of used sanitary products. Menstrual health is not part of school or college curricula, which leaves girls with mythical knowledge about menstruation and related practices.

Many women feel uncomfortable talking about it is because of the forced stigma attached to a process that is biological and natural. I went to watch the movie with a friend – she is educated, comes from a good family, married for almost half a decade and lives in a foreign land all by herself. Despite all that, I could see that she was uncomfortable. She said that there was no reason for such a topic to be turned into a movie. We had quiet a conversation about it, only because I am genuinely interested to understand how people across the fence think.

Islam and Menstruation

In our society, it is often easier to tackle social and cultural hurdles, but clarifying religious beliefs can prove to be a gargantuan endeavor. I am not a scholar, so I will rely on the following quotes with sources for your perusal:

  • In al-Saheehayn it is also narrated from Umm ‘Atiyyah that she heard the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say: “Let the girls who have attained puberty, women in seclusion and menstruating women go out – i.e., to the Eid prayer – and witness good and the gathering of the believers.” Source: https://islamqa.info/en/70438
  • Bibi Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) said, “We left with the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) for the pilgrimage. When we were in Sarif (a place close to Makkah) I began to menstruate. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) approached me and I was crying. He said, ‘Did you get your period?’ I said, ‘Yes’ He said, ‘Verily this is a matter Allah has written upon the girls of Prophet Adam (Allah bless him). Do all the actions of the pilgrimage except the tawaf.’ [Bukhari]
  • Bibi Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) was also quoted to have said, “The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) would recline on my lap while I was menstruating and he would read the Quran.” [Bukhari. At another occasion, she narrated, “The Messenger of God (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to me, ‘Get me the prayer mat from the prayer area.’ I replied, ‘I am menstruating.’ He said, ‘Verily, your menstruation is not in your hand.’ [Muslim]
  • The Companions (Allah be pleased with them) asked the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) about how should they behave with their menstruating wives. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Do everything with her except for sexual intercourse.” [Muslim; ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari]. These narrations demonstrate that a husband must still act favorably and loving towards his wife regardless if she is menstruating. A man should not ignore his menstruating wife but continue to live with her as companions for the sake of Allah.

To conclude, the restrictions and reservations in our society around menstruation has to do with culture and society, and not religion. We have enough people using the Islamic garb to tarnish its image; lets not add to it out of sheer ignorance.

The only way to peel away the stigma is to talk about it. Address issues and concerns, and work to provide relief and assistance. Currently, lack of awareness and resources often results in social restrictions and exclusion, school absenteeism, and increased vulnerability to reproductive tract infections (RTI) and urinary tract infections (UTI), which may in turn greatly impact women’s lives. All of this can be avoided. All we need to do is talk. Or let the movie do the talking.

I hope that the FCB comes to its senses and allows for the movie to be screened across Pakistan. I know powerful intimidate many but seriously, get over it already!

(* when I say many, you are probably not the audience, for you are reading this post, either on your mobile or laptops. You are privileged. The top 20% of Pakistan. But it is equally important for you and I to see this movie, to relate to the ordeal of people who do not have access to these basic necessities).