Dear Muslim Sisters, Stop Pretending That You Don’t Bleed During Ramadan

This story is a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s campaign #IAmNotDown to spread awareness on menstrual hygiene and start a conversation on how sanitary pads can be made more affordable. If you have an opinion on how we can improve access to menstrual hygiene products, write to us here.

Are you a person with a uterus? Are you not expecting a baby anytime soon? Have you not had your menopause yet?

Well then, there are chances that you are going to bleed every single month. Be it during the date-night you have been waiting for, or in that amazing dress you have been dying to wear – the egg can crack anytime, anywhere. And no – there’s no stopping it!

Then, how can Ramadan – the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar – be an exception? I mean, come on, your uterus doesn’t know what month it is, nor does it care, to be honest!

Ramadan is considered to be the month of exceptional blessings, and Muslims around the world fast from fajr (dawn) till maghrib (dusk) and observe taqwa (a path that leads towards Allah) during this month. As per the Quran, this practice of fasting is obligatory for every Muslim.

But, there are some who have the ‘divine license’ not to observe fast. Those who are travelling or are sick or pregnant, breastfeeding mothers and menstruating women (God knows the uterus won’t listen to anybody!) can miss a few fasts. These fasts must be compensated for, after Ramadan.

However, among all these exceptions, maximum secrecy is maintained around menstruation during Ramadan. Even though our society has now finally ‘accepted’ the female reproductive cycle (phew, what a relief!), women are still expected to hide it. We bleeding women are asked not to fast, as we usually need more nutrition during this time than during other days.

However, if we ‘pretend’ like we are fasting, and do not eat anything from dawn to dusk, we feel like champions. But tell me, if the whole point is about not starving yourself, why do we women – suffering from stomach cramps, aching lower backs, low energy, and volatile emotions – shy away from eating during Ramadan, even though we are allowed not to fast? Who are we scared of? Why do we maintain the facade of fasting, when it’s natural for us to bleed for five to seven days every month, anyway?

One of the major reasons for this facade is that, as a society, we still believe that menstruation should not be discussed or disclosed. So, to let our brothers, fathers, uncles and colleagues not know that it’s ‘that time of the month’, we pretend to turn into superwomen who do not bleed for a whole month, without undergoing any hormonal problem or getting pregnant (as if they won’t know!).

No, lying is just not enough! Us women love being tough on ourselves. So, it’s not enough that we only endure our periods – we also add insult to it by abstaining ourselves from the ‘perks’ they bring us. For instance, hiding in the bathroom to eat, or taking quick meals while dodging everyone, or ordering food under the name of your non-Muslim friends. Relatable much? We are all guilty of doing these things – and let’s just admit that we are all tired of them too!

Every year, I promise myself that this is the Ramadan when I won’t be pushed down by these prejudices, and eat as I do on normal days! Every year, I convince myself that I’m not doing anything haraam (illegal) and that people mind their own business.

But I don’t do anything. Every year, I break my promise. Every year, I fail to convince myself that nobody gives a damn about me eating or not eating. And, it surprises me how, I, who calls myself a feminist, want my male friends and family member to believe that I’m fasting – when in reality, I am not, and can’t, either!

Fasting – religious obligation or self-imposed suffering? (Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

You might ask me why? Why don’t I just go to my kitchen and make a cup of coffee when I feel like, and have it silently rather than consuming it in front of a bunch of hungry or thirsty people? Why is it such a big deal?

Why indeed?

It’s because we live in a patriarchal society. Yeah, I know that it’s old news. But it’s one thing not to eat in front of a fasting person out of respect – and a completely different thing to feel guilty about having lunch or hiding in your own home to take a meal!

The real problem is that we women have become conditioned to this mindset of ‘hiding’ this natural process. Even in situations where we aren’t required to fake a fast, a lot of us continue to do so. While you and I might have different reasons for not fasting on a particular day, we tend to think that menstruation is the first ‘justification’ or ‘excuse’ that comes to people’s minds. And how can we allow people to know that we are the beings who survive seven days of bleeding, every month!

Actually, it’s not the men or the society we are afraid of. We are most afraid of ourselves. We don’t want to give ourselves the space or willingness to discuss menstruation. It’s we who don’t want to go easy on ourselves or embrace our identities as women and everything that comes along with being women, publicly.

Dear sisters, you have the ‘divine license’ to take a break from the fasts. Your iron levels are low, your body needs food and lots of water, and you are usually hurting during those days. Please don’t make it any harder than it already is. The problem is not that somebody will come up to you or me and make us uncomfortable about eating publicly. The problem is that we ourselves find it uncomfortable – and that is not okay!

I’m not going to be all preachy – but let’s not forget that this is our body. Periods are something that is part of being a woman. Obviously, it affects our health too. So, we really need to embrace it and be comfortable with everything that’s going on down there. And most importantly, we need to stop being apologetic about our existence!

Maybe, it’s not that easy, but here’s the deal – let’s try it out, at least? On this Menstrual Hygiene Day (and coincidentally, also the first day of Ramadan), I promise to apply my preachings to myself.

Oh, and if you’re a woman who’s reading this and has already dumped these stupid social conventions, then more power to you! But, if you’re like me who still hasn’t done it and are craving to do so – please think about this stupid, oppressive legacy that we have inherited – and maybe then we can join hands in changing it?

And on this note – Ramadan mubarak!