Here's why students at Lahore's BNU covered campus walls with sanitary pads

Published: April 12, 2016
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PHOTO: SHERBAZ LEHRI

PHOTO: SHERBAZ LEHRI

In 2015, students of Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University stuck sanitary pads all over their campus in a bid to raise awareness about rape and sexism. A year on, the act seems to have struck a chord on this side of the border.

It all started with a simple college assignment at Beaconhouse National University (BNU) in Lahore. A group of girls, and boys, decided to protest against the stigmatisation of menstruation and the ‘sharmindagi‘ (shame) attached to it.

The protest, held on April 7 and April 8, aimed to encourage the public at large to accept menstruation as a normal fact of life, instead of treating it as a “dirty little secret” and brown-bagging sanitary pads at grocery stores.

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Students from the Department of Information & Technology and Liberal Arts at BNU set out to break this taboo in Pakistan by placing 25 sanitary pads on their university’s wall with important facts about periods and the various reasons why people consider it “gross, weird, or wrong”.

“This is not a campaign; this was merely an aesthetically-based protest as a class project. We chose this because Eman and I feel women face a lot of stigmatisation and ridicule for menstruation, something they have no control over,” one of the students told The Express Tribune.

“Firstly, the protest was against the stigma attached to menstruation and the sharmindagi with which we discuss it. We are made to put pads in brown paper bags when we buy them, we are made to talk about periods in hushed voices as if it’s a dirty secret, and all in all, made to act as if it is something we should hide more so than other bodily functions, when it’s really a natural part of our biology. Several women contract diseases because they are not fully informed of hygienic practices when it comes to menstruation and very few people will actually discuss it,” she wrote in a post on Facebook.

“No, I’m not some shameless libertine, but I don’t think I should feel shame for this, even though I do feel very embarrassed and self-conscious about this whole experience,” she added.

Stressing on the importance of public discourse on the subject, Rahim pointed toward the implications of such stigmatisation by highlighting the high number of women contracting diseases “because they are not fully informed of hygienic practices when it comes to menstruation”.

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Elaborating on the campaign, the student said, “We had painted stains on our white kameezes and stood there and talked and interacted with the boys as if everything is alright, and nothing is gross, weird, or wrong.”

She further said she was happy to see that there were also many supporting her and her friends. “My brother and sisters are very supportive of this, even though not all of them live here and I think it’s great. There’s also been a surge of support on social media, which I would like to thank everyone for,” she said.

Last year, Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University stuck sanitary pads with feminist messages all over their campus, which were promptly taken down by the university’s administration. However, it still managed to inspire other university students in the region to carry out protests using sanitary pads to display similar messages.

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Many took to Twitter to express solidarity with the students:

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Reader Comments (42)

  • Brainy Bhaijan
    Apr 12, 2016 - 4:15PM

    Thanks to the Arab culture, one cannot even think of attempting such a thought provoking movement in Pakistan.
    Pakistan will become prosperous once the Arab tribal traditions are removed from its ideology.Recommend

  • Bunny Rabbit
    Apr 12, 2016 - 4:26PM

    Sorry I must say – I dont like this blatant exhibitionism .Theres no need to ‘hide ‘ but also no need to flash. Recommend

  • Alamy
    Apr 12, 2016 - 4:38PM

    Next time why not plaster the walls with human feces as something not to be ashamed or discreet about !!Recommend

  • XoF
    Apr 12, 2016 - 5:03PM

    Well those were some attention hungry students. In Pakistan I think there is enough sister hood to take care of these issues supported by male members, and to whisper it and discuss it under closed doors comes under decency and modesty when in being in public. Recommend

  • Karachiite
    Apr 12, 2016 - 5:18PM

    Not talking about it and treating it as taboo is a great crime and I’m all for discussion, but this is a little overboard I think. I’m not against it, just saying there are better ways to discuss the topic without making other people uncomfortable. Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Apr 12, 2016 - 5:24PM

    Yes its not shameful,but there are certain things which are reality and should not discuss openly. If its a thought provoking for you, then try discussing at your own homeRecommend

  • Zeeshan
    Apr 12, 2016 - 6:00PM

    @Brainy Bhaijan

    “Thanks to the Arab culture, one cannot even think of attempting such a thought provoking movement in Pakistan.
    Pakistan will become prosperous once the Arab tribal traditions are removed from its ideology.”

    Look at the statement above. There is no “Arab tribal tradition” in India but my Gawd, but they are still poor and a pit hole there.

    This explained why this kind of stunt is considered as “thought provoking movement” by the brainy bhaiyaji. Recommend

  • Ali
    Apr 12, 2016 - 6:38PM

    the message is good but using sanitary pads well utter disgusting Recommend

  • jamal
    Apr 12, 2016 - 6:43PM

    there is no shame in sanitary pads but there is no pride either. somethings are not discussed as they are not worth discussing. will putting condoms or men boxers on wall will serve any purpose? should we have glass covers of manholes?Recommend

  • Gemini
    Apr 12, 2016 - 6:44PM

    Simple solution to everything is that we are not Arabs, don’t react and act like arabs we have our own identity. Please live with it.Recommend

  • brar
    Apr 12, 2016 - 7:26PM

    I was astonished when my Maharastrian collegue told me that the women in their villages are not allowed to enter the kitchen what to talk of cooking even their utencils are separated for these days.Recommend

  • Imran
    Apr 12, 2016 - 7:49PM

    Cheap tactic to earn some fame by BNU. The bogus & faarigh institutes attempt such things every now & then.Recommend

  • Last Man Alive
    Apr 12, 2016 - 10:17PM

    Now that’s height of creativity and profusely shows the

    intellectual levels of the students in so called top education institutes.Recommend

  • Hasan
    Apr 13, 2016 - 12:10AM

    Agree with the very first comment.
    Pakistan has become a very intolerant and very ignorant society; which is a pity because there are some very literary sons and daughters here who can turn our nation around if it is not for the violence and terrorism of other cultures hijacking the Pakistani culture.Recommend

  • Anam Batool
    Apr 13, 2016 - 12:18AM

    So dirty n cheapRecommend

  • MMK
    Apr 13, 2016 - 1:46AM

    @Pakistani:
    WHY discuss it under closed doors? it is something shameful and not natural that can’t be discussed openly??Recommend

  • Deadtoady
    Apr 13, 2016 - 8:35AM

    For people saying this is gross and disgusting and “too far”, how would you raise awareness by sticking up a poster no one can read or by women just hiding, looking shifty in shops Brown bagging pads like they are buying bootlegged alcohol. Powerful visuals are created to incite reactions to make people talk and to think about the cause. Which I think this project has achieved perfectly. What is “gross” about a pad? It’s not used is it? That way yes it’s gross. This way it’s no different than a diaper for a baby those are displayed all over billboards and no one cries “gross” while both are equal necessities for natural human processes. And for those saying why don’t you just stick feces and boxers and other crap like that, I’m pretty sure you don’t have any shame when you need to use the bathroom or wear underwear. The very word “taboo” comes from a word that translates directly into “menstruation”. It needs to be broken and progress needs to made to increase awareness. If we can see always and whisper advertising on prime time tv this is no different.this is an attempt at cognitive dissonance, first you will outright reject the new idea then if talked about enough come up with a justification in your brain and eventually if enough people understand you will learn to accept it as a norm and as facts that this is nothing to be ashamed of. Think about it from this perspective.Recommend

  • Usman Khan
    Apr 13, 2016 - 9:26PM

    Dont be surprised if you see women burning bras in the name of women empowerment. There is limit to everything. But than again who are you trying to teach. Women? Good luck with that.Recommend

  • gp65
    Apr 13, 2016 - 10:27PM

    @Deadtoady: The most thoughtful comment of all.Recommend

  • Sohaib Saad
    Apr 13, 2016 - 10:31PM

    This is some next level stupidity.Recommend

  • doom
    Apr 13, 2016 - 10:58PM

    The fact that people are disgusted by the mere sight of a feminine hygiene product, shows this was much needed.

    Getting mad about this, or thinking it is over the top, is like getting upset about seeing toilet paper or bandages. Recommend

  • Uzair
    Apr 13, 2016 - 11:40PM

    Does no one notice the irony in the picture of Mavera Rahim? The 2nd top right one says, “Periods are not inherently sexual” which is true. And then in the middle it says, “Periods make us hornier” did someone not realize what this was supposed to be about? HA!Recommend

  • Khalil
    Apr 13, 2016 - 11:56PM

    A cheap tactic to get attention of people , making such discussions public has much harm than benefits , pathetic Recommend

  • Fizza Rashid
    Apr 14, 2016 - 12:29AM

    No doubt, menstruation is a natural process. But it doesn’t need to be publicized this way. Pooping is also a natural process. Why don’t these students smear some poop on their shirts like they painted stains. This is completely ridiculous! If these students pulled this stunt for awareness, then there are other more effective means of spreading awareness about menstruation. They should visit rural areas and provide free sanitary pads to women who are unaware of hygienic practices. Recommend

  • Hasan
    Apr 14, 2016 - 6:19AM

    Normally, posting an answer a second time is a futile exercise, however seeing the height of ignorance, one cannot resist.

    If “such discussions” are harmful than why did nature create menstruation ? It is because We are a closed society, we do more harm. Only when we talk about issues and break the taboo, avoidable events such as sexual abuse etc are avoided. Dear Pakistanis, Think before you Ink!Recommend

  • bittertruth
    Apr 14, 2016 - 9:54AM

    @zeeshan brainy bhaijaan is right. we also need to get rid of the disgusting desi culture that exists in pakistan india and bangaldesh.Recommend

  • Talha
    Apr 14, 2016 - 11:42AM

    This has stooped down to the lowest of all protests! I fail to understand how in the world one can signify and aware about the natural process of menstruation like this? My God! what are we teaching to our kids these days? Don’t get me wrong guys, I am on the same side but we all should remember our social and religious structure. Its not one should shy away with issues with excuses, but there are far better ways to register your notion. I bet all the guys and girls involved cant even talk about their male/female (gf/bf) friends in front of their parents. its not that they are suppressed or ashamed to talk about them but its just our socio-familia structure and there is nothing bad in that. Especially for female information, even guys, yes the guys in our country are ashamed “sharminda” buying condoms as they think it disturbs the norms of our society that’s why there are campaigns which are well thought out, researched, analyzed and then pitched. For my understanding, if a guy is ashamed of buying condom, it doesn’t mean we all just go on sticking condoms on the walls to get the point across! its absurd! completely in bad taste and illogical! You people are your parents investment, they are banking hard on you to be more logical and sane, that’s why they are sending you to these good schools so you be a better human being with enlightenment. So do get your point across but please be responsible as pointing fingers is easy but finding a solution is difficult so go for the hard path, it sure will give you tough time but it will be beneficial in long run. Recommend

  • Farrukh Shahbaz Warraich
    Apr 14, 2016 - 12:21PM

    Menstruation is a natural process.But its does not mean we should discuss it publicly and by the way this is not a taboo. Hats off to attention hungry people.Recommend

  • M.Taha
    Apr 15, 2016 - 12:17AM

    Obviously there is no harm in discussing about mensus. But its an impurity or “nijasat e ghaleeza” it shouldnt be exposed like any other impurity e.g human excreta. It isn’t a taboo but its part of woman’s “haya” or modesty not to publisize her periods. Same modesty is required by men. Women r even encouraged to pray in a separate place at home so that male members dont know that when they r praying and when they r not. Recommend

  • nasser
    Apr 15, 2016 - 12:43AM

    @Zeeshan:
    Brainy Bhaijan Is devoid of Brain so don’t need to respond to his comments. If he feels that female members of his family walks around the streets proudly displaying the spots on their clothes is a matter of pride then let him rejoice. Recommend

  • Azmat Khan
    Apr 15, 2016 - 3:54AM

    It is a bold awareness campaign of the females about menstruation. Menstruation and the related blood is most hated taboo.The blood is only dirty but not injurious in anyway-It does not make the woman dirty at all-Medically it can not cause any harm if contactedRecommend

  • Mk
    Apr 15, 2016 - 11:26AM

    Open discussions should always be welcomed..but this is taking it a step further! there are other topics that are considered a taboo or a “sharmindagi” , will everything be stuck on the walls?? Recommend

  • MMK
    Apr 15, 2016 - 1:36PM

    @Azmat Khan:
    dirty??? the same blood is given to the fetus for SURVIVAL during pregnancy! it is far from dirty! stop making a natural thing taboo! There is nothing vulgar about this in your face advertising! Recommend

  • MMK
    Apr 15, 2016 - 1:43PM

    @Talha:
    WHAT social and religious structure?? One that ostracizes such a things and finds it shameful to openly talk about something natural?! What is so wrong with the general public not being fully aware? Why should women have to buy sanitary napkins wrapped in a brown paper as if it is some dirty little secret or buying drugs! Don’t men have wives or daughters. Won’t boys grow up to be husbands and fathers? Maybe you need to open your mind a little,and stop using religion and culture as an excuse to shame this thing. The social culture NEEDS to change so girls and women can openly talk about this! Nothing wrong with that! Stop treating menstruation as aids! Condoms are pads are NOT the same thing! One is an absolute necessity while the other has many alternatives! So please make useful comparisons! Recommend

  • MMK
    Apr 15, 2016 - 3:07PM

    @Fizza Rashid:
    What a ignorant and a baseless comparison! Comparing pooping and mensuration,especially coming from a woman! And WHO is publicizing used sanitary pads? and FYI you see many men openly urinating and pooping in the public, no one seems to be batting an eye on what?! WHY!? Please open your mind and realize that sometimes out of the box and aggressive ideas are needed to being change. AND the whole point of this is NOT to bring awareness towards poor women, it is to END stigma amongst ALL genders! Recommend

  • Lemon
    Apr 16, 2016 - 6:51AM

    @Fizza Rashid:
    Right. IA.
    In our rural areas, women can’t afford to buy these expensive pads monthly. If these students are so concerned, they should provide these pads to those who need it. Without wasting them to be publicly exhibited on the university wall.
    In earthquake hit areas, victims have no means of cotton either, they are in such bad condition and look at these students, who are doing illiterate acts. Stupids all. Attention seekers. I have no problem w/ idea but the act – it was poor indeedRecommend

  • Dua
    Apr 16, 2016 - 7:43PM

    Shame a million trillions times on Beacon House !! Insanity at its peak !!! Recommend

  • Shujaat
    Apr 17, 2016 - 3:05PM

    You need to follow traffic rules if driving on the road. Government should stop such initiatives. A very immature act causing more hate than passing the msg across!!Recommend

  • SaneVoice
    Apr 17, 2016 - 3:16PM

    This is what you call feminazism. Do these brainless munchkins really want that whenever women buy these pads they shout it out loud that “Hey people look at us we are buying sanitary pads and we are so proud” There are certain things which are private they have nothing to with social acceptance. For instance when men buy condoms do they also parade on streets chanting “we are proud of our purchase, so we should be accepted?” Even thou no one has a problem with that. People are getting dumber day by day, thanks to the mindless bandwagoning with the westerners. Recommend

  • Fatima Altaf
    Apr 21, 2016 - 12:45PM

    There are more subtle and effective ways to address this issue rather than this unnecessary openness bordering on exhibitionism and vulgarism. Tell me how this helps the woman belonging to the very segment of society where such stigmatiation takes place, or how it helps change the masculine mindset who carries out this stigma? He will merely dismiss it as vulgar and she will be further stigmatized. This sort of practice can only be appreciated amongst the elite, who are already free of such stigma or conservatism. The practical thing to do would be to try raising better awareness about this in rural areas through NGO s and health workers, and through print and electronic media.Recommend

  • Syed Ali
    Apr 22, 2016 - 5:52AM

    When in States, I noticed one can purchase alcoholic beverages but requires (at least in Atlanta, Georgia) to carry (from the shop to the car) the bottles wrapped in paper or concealed in a paper bag. No one can consume alcohol in public too. Are the Americans ashamed of alcohol? I was there for five years but did not hear about a protest against this law (apparently a barbaric Muslim law !!!). The present episode reminds me of one of the psychological torture techniques US troops employed in Abu Gharib, Iraq; the male inmates were forced to smell on, and lick the blood-stained napkins. So what next? Maybe the kids should wear their used pads around their necks, attach to their bag packs, or stick on their vehicles for awareness sake.Recommend

  • Hasan
    Apr 22, 2016 - 11:22AM

    @SyedAli
    American society is very conscientious and what you have rightly pointed out is done so in order to protect minors from seeing and consuming alcohol; which is not the case here.Recommend

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