In a country where ‘mardana kamzori’ ads are flaunted everywhere, displaying sanitary pads on a campus wall was 'shameful'

While men might find the pervasive posters of male impotence slightly distasteful and will move on with their lives, they find enough time and energy to ostracize the few students who wanted to fight the taboo surrounding periods

Mardana Kamzori’ and sanitary pads. The former related to men in our society, the latter related to women. One is ignored like signifying nothing special and accepted as a given fact of phenomenon in the society; you can wall-chalk it; pamphlets of ‘Ajmalai Dawakhana’ will be without any discomfort distributed at any bus terminal; every wall-chalking will enjoin to be not ashamed of it and visit the clinic or ‘dawakhana’ at the earliest. Some will implore you to be not ashamed of it, others will tempt you to save yourself from the shame by visiting the clinic as soon as possible and learn the tricks for a successful married life (confusing successful married life with sexual life; after-all what other purpose are marriages meant for!). If you have a headache and visit any medical store, the first big poster that will welcome you will be related to the said ‘mardana kamzori’ (infertility or sexual impotence). If you don’t have any ‘mardana kamzori’, they are hell-bent on giving you the complex that you should check – what is wrong with giving it a try!

Now I am not launching a product of my own. I am not associated with any ‘Hakeem-e-dawakhana’ either. Portraying the walls and streets here is meant to juxtapose it with a natural thing that is tabooed in the society – menstrual cycle. Not every man suffers from ‘mardana kamzori’ but every adult girl or a woman has periods. And they are not result of any 'sinning', like you will find in every pamphlet how ‘mardana kamzori’ is born out of indulgence.  But even given the natural occurrence of menstrual cycle and complete determinism of it by biology, a slight reference to it is frowned upon, nay censored, at the outset. It is something to be ashamed of. Something to be talked about in hushed words, lest it corrupt the moral compass and glorious moral values of the society.  Even if talking about it doesn’t violate the moral code, talking about it in public is at least against decency. What is meant by decency one really keeps wondering. Is talking about growing facial hair on an adolescent against decency, or someone talking about his beard or shaving it or taking care of it hygienically, against decency? Surely not.  Why then are sanitary pads, or even symbolic mention of it, a reason for so much outcry and point of debate?

BNU students covered a campus wall with sanitary pads to protest against period shaming

If one really wants to know the answer, it should be sought in the misogynist patriarchal mindset that everyone is conditioned to and thus anything related to a woman’s body is a symbol of honor and shame, whereas shame and honor can be used interchangeably. It can be manifested in many ways from methods innocuous and insidious to horrendous and violent.  Religious right coming under one roof – when in private they call each other kafir - for putting the pressure on government to repeal protection against domestic violence bill from all men across class and ideological divide, loathing few students for their temerity and ‘shameful’ act of putting sanitary pads on wall of a campus – are just two sides of the same coin: the misogynist patriarchal mindset that reduces women to instruments of honor and hence any show of agency from them is by default a challenge to their overarching power.

While men might find the pervasive posters of male impotence slightly distasteful and will move on with their lives, they find enough time and energy to ostracize the few students who wanted to fight the taboo surrounding periods. Like their male privilege is violated by someone taking to public space a thing which is integral part of every woman’s life. They will find no moral qualm in bullying those students, but will be mere spectators in the violence extended to women by the society in name of honor and shame.

It all really melts down to one thing: male insecurity and their fragile egos. Their trembling at the fact that a thing which has been used to demean women and wield power over them by making a point of their bodies being dirty – and thus being inferior to pure bodies of men which are free of such things – is coming out in the open and the shame which for thousands of years has been associated with natural processes of their bodies is finally challenged and being lifted up. I have but words of appreciation and respect for those students who came together and made men tremble across class and ideological divide. They are successful; at least a man can now talk and write about sanitary pads. Men will come to realize now that their ‘mardana kamzori’ is not the only topic worth spreading awareness about. That the hygiene and health issues of women deserve as much attention and a place in the discourse in the public space as their imagined issues which are result of their inferior conception of themselves.

And in the end to those over-concerned with decency: don’t be afraid, sanitary pads will not take over your preferred wall-chalking. You will have unchallenged privilege over the walls out there. No sanitary pads will replace the ‘mardana kamzori’ ad just in front of your home.  But next time when you visit a medical store and see one of those postures, think about how indecent that is. And if you have time, post about it on social media too.

Hurmat Ali Shah is a freelance writer interested in intersection of culture, politics and society. He can be reached at Follow him on Facebook 

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