UNPACKING THE Arab Period Experience
Getting your period can be tough, no matter where you are in the world. But when you factor in regional or cultural stigmas around periods (and around the female body) it can go from tough to almost impossible. We reached out to our amazing Leap Loves Green IG family to ask them what their unique experiences were so that we could share them with you.
THAT FIRST PERIOD the good, the bad, the ugly
Negative emotions were the primary reaction to our respondents’ first periods. 50% of them felt scared at the time and aside from fear, they felt sad or confused. Only 20% of our respondents had a positive reaction such as happiness or excitement. The answers we received mirror a similar survey by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), where the majority of women across the Arab world said their first feelings were embarrassment, shame, fear or anxiety.
EDUCATING GIRLS ABOUT PERIODS leaves a lot to be desired
The majority of answers from women in our community demonstrated that they knew some stuff about menstruation, but not enough about them when they got their first period. About a quarter of respondents felt they had enough access to information, and an equal amount felt they were totally unprepared for their first period. Related to this question, some respondents felt the lack of information was due to their own mother’s upbringing, which may have been more conservative, and that influenced how comfortable they were talking to their daughters about periods.
IT’S GOOD TO HAVE women you can trust
From our survey mothers are the first people women told about their periods - almost 80% of our respondents agreed. Other female family members, like aunts and sisters, were also key people that our community turned to, while a few respondents told their nanny as she was the first person they saw that day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only two respondents out of 250 told a male relative first.
While there may be increased societal pressure to keep periods a secret from male relatives and counterparts, it seems that women struggle universally with talking openly about their periods. A 2016 global investigation by period and pregnancy app Clue (which got over 90,000 responses) revealed that there are over 5,000 euphemisms for getting your period - indicating that across the world periods arouse feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment and women can’t talk about them freely anywhere. In a journal article about euphemisms in the Arab world, a short-hand used was “I can’t pray” when talking about having your period.
REACTIONS can shape how you feel about your period for a lifetime
Our respondents’ shared varied reactions to the news of their first period, their confidant may have been supportive, humorous, excited, relieved, nervous or ashamed.
- [She was] helpful, encouraging and open to questions.
- [She responded] Like it was something normal and painless. Then [she taught me how] to hide [my period].
- She almost cried of happiness and we went back home and she gave me an envelope with a sweet letter and cash.
- Once mom discovered, she gave me the religious points associated with periods, و كيفية الغسل
- Mom was so shy to talk about anything period related, because of the taboos she grew up with. Instead of talking to me face to face, she demonstrated the right way to put on a pad on one of my panties, and hung it on my bedroom’s door knob. It show[ed] me she wanted to be there for me, in her own way, struggling internally with her own generational trauma and shame related to periods and women’s body.
- Mom was travelling, suddenly I saw blood while using the toilet at my grandparents house and I was wearing white pants. I lived in the toilet that night. [...] My mom came back and I never told her about my period because I was worried she would force me to cover up (not only hijab, cover my face and not sit with my male cousins). Two months later I got my period again, my mom knew from the maid because I stained my undies [...] She gave me pads, a few weeks later she asked me to put a headscarf (طرحة) on my head when we go out, I was not forced to cover up until years later. Period in my head was associated with puberty, responsibility, adhering to religious rules, heaven and hell (ببلوغ و تكليف والحساب و جنة و نار). I was a teen during the last strict religious years. I didn’t want to grow up, I just wanted to be a kid, I dind\t want to grow up and probably go to hell
- I kept it a secret from my mom for the first 6 months (I’m sure she knew)
- When I got my period my whole family celebrated: mom, dad, aunties, uncle, granny etc.
- My mom was asleep so the housekeeper took me for a walk & got me my first set of pads
- I remember hiding my pads under other items in my cart so no one would see them :(
- My first period, my mom was travelling, I didn’t have pads. Used tissues & lived in the toilet.
- I got my first period at 10 years old. My whole family considered me an adult since then. That’s traumatic 😂
- Dad joked that now we can buy pads in bulk for the house (we’re all daughters) 😂
I got my first period when I was 10, so I got to be there for friends when they got theirs 😊
We hope by sharing some of these encounters with you, you can rest assured that you are not alone in this collective experience, and if you become the person another woman tells about her first period, you’ll have some more tools ...
PERIOD EXPERIENCES are as unique as your period is
When asked to recount a memorable experience from their periods, most women recounted bleeding through their pads or clothing in a range of circumstances including having their period on a plane, at school and at a restaurant. The reactions were varied; our respondents talked with gratitude about having teachers, siblings and mothers who were supportive, and they talked about being ashamed, feeling alone and ill-prepared for what was happening.
THE FUTURE OF PERIODS is down to usAs a woman owned business that helps women have bloody good periods, and look good doing it, the female experience of their body and periods is fascinating for us. We’re all about democratizing information around the female body, so that the next time a girl gets her period for the first time, the experience is as harmonious as possible. If you’re looking for information in Arabic about the female body, health and sexualty check out our friends at Niswa.