By Almas Shamim

I clearly remember the day. I was around nine years of age, in fifth standard and had just returned home, happy that another tiring day was over. My mummy turned me around, lifted my grey uniform skirt and pointing at a small patch asked me, ‘Yekyahai?’ (What is that?)

I carelessly told ‘Oh, I don’t know…. I must have sat on something…. Maybe during the lunch break … oil from someone’s tiffin maybe’

But, my mummy was in a panic mode- she took me to the toilet and yes, her fear was right!

My underwear was soaking red! I had had my menarche- the first time I got my periods.

What followed for me was a teary and sad week when I refused to go to school and lay in bed as if I was dying and begging my mother to tell me if there was anything else about to ‘happen’ to me, anything else which she hadn’t told me about.

Sometimes, when I look back I wonder why had I behaved so silly, but, then I am reminded – I was only nine years old- a child!

Yes, it wasn’t as common to have menarche at such a young age back then, now-a-days, it is commoner. Yes, my mother hadn’t anticipated that I would get my periods so soon, because both my mummy and my sister had not had periods until they were well into their teen years. But, would my mummy have told me about menstruation had I reached 10, 11 or even 12? I seriously doubt that. My family has not been one where menstruation is spoken about openly. She would have waited until I learnt it myself- by experience or through friends.

It is not any different in many other homes. Things as common as plain biology are held back from children- the way our body changes, the way girls develop breasts or the way they menstruate. This transfer of information may seem trivial to many but is essential not only because it gives some additional knowledge to the child, but also because it make the child realize that it is ‘normal’ and nothing to fear or hate, and that their parents/ teachers will always be there to stand with them and support them if anything about their new body irks them or confuses them. Having this support system is very important to have a healthy body image and also to approach reliable and correct people if there are instances of abuse or pregnancy.

Talking about menstruation to children (both boys and girls) not only helps them who have their menarche around the time their friends do, it also helps those girls who don’t get their periods until late- a girl who has not yet had her periods has a chance of being called ‘names’ by her friends, of being told that she is not normal or less of a girl than the others- all these could have disastrous consequences on the mental health of a young girl. It helps boys to understand differences better and not ‘bully’ girls for being different. Again, ‘talking’ can help dispel these myths and make children aware of how normal it is and how if it happens late or if a girl doesn’t get her periods at all- it does not make her any less of a person and she is as capable of anything that others are capable of.

Comprehensive sex education to all children about the bodies of both boys and girls and the changes they should anticipate, will go a long way in grooming children into healthy, confident adults.

Leaving you with a link to a you tube video (good luck viewing it in our internet connection!) which has a funny take on periods:

Almas Shamim is a public health specialist with a great interest in sexual and reproductive health and rights, and feminism among Muslim women. She currently works for an international humanitarian aid organization in New Delhi