I’m currently sitting at my desk, very dehydrated. If you’re thinking, why don’t you just go get a glass of water? Well, that’s because I’m fasting. And no, not even water.
What else is on my mind is that sometime during what Muslims like to call “The Holy Month”, I will eventually bleed because, well, I’m a woman. My thoughts about my period this month aren’t focused on how crappy I may feel the first day and how many desserts I’ll get to binge on because I deserve it. Instead I’m thinking about my relationship with my period during Ramadan.
In Ramadan, there are boxes you have to tick in order to fast. If you are on your period you do not have to fast because your body is already going through so much, never mind having to crave a chocolate doughnut you are banned from eating (in the name of understanding how a large portion of the world lives, of course).
When my period arrives, I will be able to eat at times other members of my family will not. I will not hide this from my immediate family - including the men - but eating in front of them will make it apparent I am on my period. And if I was invited to an iftar party (a dinner party where you break your fast) I would not eat in front of everyone there before the sun goes down for two reasons: 1) I don’t want to tease people with sugar all over my lips and 2) I would feel slightly strange about everyone knowing I was on my period. Why does my granddad need to know that?
Personally, I am open about talking about periods to anyone who wants to discuss my blood. However, my mother on the other hand feels awkward about talking about it to anyone, so she herself will choose to put on the front that she is always fasting.
But for many Muslim women, awkwardness does not even begin to cover how they feel about eating in front of others during Ramadan. Many feel as though they have to pretend they are fasting by eating in secret or not eating at all. This may be either because they have been period shamed in the past (something that women are talking about on Twitter) and so the subject feels too taboo to talk about or simply because they do not want to have to share information about their monthly cycle with others. It is a personal issue, which they shouldn’t have to discuss unless they choose to. Who really wants to walk into a crowded room and announce they’re on their period?
It may be difficult at first but the only solution to this is normalising periods and the conversation around it. There are too many women who go through double the emotional labour during Ramadan for us all not to talk about what is a very normal thing to happen to half the population every 28 days. The idea that women are walking around feeling lesser than and even less of a Muslim during Ramadan makes my blood boil as this isn’t an Islamic issue, it’s a patriarchal one.
I am definitely speaking from a place of privilege as my family is more open to this conversation than some and I have not been instructed to pretend to fast, but if we never let all those who bleed - including transgender men - simply be and act for what is right for their body, then frankly we’re going against anything human. Ramadan is intended to be a time when we take a second to humble ourselves, especially those who are fortunate. It’s to think of others and understand our lens for the world is not universal, so if you do not have periods, please do what you can to be understanding of those of us who do.