Tag Archives: puberty

Breaking silence on menstruation

Breaking silence on menstruation


Ebad AhmedSpecial ReportNovember 24, 2019

It was May 2018 when two sisters in Karachi formally set up their dream project in a bid to help underprivileged women improve their menstrual health and hygiene. Enter HER Pakistan, a not-for-profit organisation which aims to shatter the myths and taboos surrounding menstruation through programmes that educate young girls, women and the society about a subject that is rarely ever talked about.

“I was working with a not-for-profit school network in Karachi and during a visit to one of the slums, I found out that girls were being forced to miss school, and at times, even drop out of school when they started menstruating,” says Sana Lokhandwala, co-founder of HER Pakistan. “And it wasn’t just that. I also came across a lot of myths and misconceptions around menstruation that prevail in our communities,” she adds. A communication specialist previously affiliated with the news industry, Sana now runs the project with her sister, Sumaira Lokhandwala.

During her eight years of experience as a healthcare marketeer, Sumaira says she realised how sexual and reproductive health, a major component of women’s overall health, was being largely neglected in Pakistan. “Subjects as normal as menstruation are considered taboo. Thousands of women do not have access to information and facilities in order to live a healthy and empowered life,” says Sumaira.

A research by Real Medicine Foundation in 2017, a non-profit organisation working to improve the health sector in disaster-hit regions, found that an alarming 79 percent of Pakistani women were not properly managing their menstrual hygiene due to lack of information. During their fieldwork, the Lokhandwala sisters made the same observation.

Their dream soon turned into reality and HER Pakistan was founded with an objective to improve sexual and reproductive health, particularly menstrual health and hygiene, for girls and women in Pakistan regardless of their socio-economic background. To date Sana and Sumaira Lokhandwala have successfully reached out to schools and communities in areas like Old Golimar, Rehri Goth, Machhar Colony, Kemari, Lyari, Gulbai, Moach Goth, Steel Town, Malir, Baldia Town and Qayyumabad.

The initiative is running as many as three projects simultaneously, starting with the School Puberty Education Programme, which prepares adolescents, their parents and teachers for puberty and associated changes and challenges.

“The programme takes a holistic approach by training parents and teachers simultaneously, so they can ensure a safe and healthy environment for adolescents after the sessions,” explain the Lokhandwala sisters. The basic components of the session include understanding gender and gender roles, introduction to puberty, physical, psychological and social changes during puberty, hygiene management, myths and misconceptions related to puberty, body positivity, bullying and harassment and a special focus on menstruation for girls. “The sessions are mostly tailored according to the needs of the students and the schools’ management.”

The initiative has reached out to as many as eight schools in Karachi and two in Gilgit Baltistan. The founders, however, believe that this is just the beginning. They aspire to take it to schools and communities all over Pakistan.

The community education programme, Menstrual Hygiene Drives, focuses on awareness sessions through peer-to-peer counselling and interactive teaching tools. The sessions are held in underprivileged communities in which women of all ages and backgrounds meet to discuss menstruation and it being a natural phenomenon, and its hygiene management.

The organisation has also launched a digital community group – Oh My Period! The Facebook group aims to provide a safe space for women to talk about everything related to menstruation, to be able to learn from one another’s experiences and to help each other.

“The aim is to create a friendly space where anyone can talk about their periods freely and ask questions without being judged,” says Sana.

The journey wasn’t a joy ride. It came with its set of challenges. But the Lokhandwala sisters say these challenges were not strong enough to unnerve them or shake their commitment. The sisters say that they faced harassment, bullying and even death and rape threats from men on digital platforms and in the real world.

“Everything related to a female body that does not serve the patriarchal needs of pleasure and procreation is considered a taboo. Everyone loves to objectify a woman’s body but no one wants to talk about menstruation or breast cancer or women’s other health-related problems,” says Sumaira.

She says the stigma exists because the society has attached shame to women’s bodies. “It’s these taboos that have conditioned the society to view menstruation as something shameful or as something to be ashamed about. It is because of this that the way we view menstruation is going to change very slowly because of our deeply ingrained cultural taboos,” she adds.

They acknowledge the role their families and friends have played in supporting the organisation and its work. “HER Pakistan is a community-driven initiative and we wouldn’t be where we are without the support we received from our generous supporters, volunteers, partners and donors.”

“Discussing and educating people – men, women, girls and boys – about menstrual hygiene and dismissing taboos associated with it, in a patriarchal society, are things that scare a lot of people. We would be lying if we say we weren’t scared,” says Sana. “We were. But we were adamant to change the menstrual health situation in Pakistan. And we can confidently say that the change is happening.”

The writer is a human rights reporter based in Karachi. He covers conflict, environment and culture.

Girl Talk: What to Expect During Puberty

Girl Talk: What to Expect During Puberty



Puberty can really be one of the toughest parts of growing up. Did you know that during puberty your body will grow faster than any other time in your life except when you were a baby? Yes! During puberty the body grows at a rate only slightly slower than a newborn’s first year of life but for some people it may feel like its taking forever.

During this awkward time there are some major changes happening in your body and brain. Relax. The only way to really know what to expect is to read up on it. Here are some physiological changes that every girl should know:

You may sweat more and feel your skin get oilier:

During puberty you may experience oily skin and sweat more than usual. This is because puberty brings maturation of the sweat and oil glands in the skin. As hormones level increase so does the oil production increases in your glands. This oil or sebum then mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria and clogs pores that results in whitehead, blackheads or pimples. This is probably the least fun part of puberty, but the good news is that it will probably eventually go away.

Your weight will increase:

It is normal to put on around 15 or more pounds during this period of development. The body starts producing more fat so that you can develop fuller breasts, hips and thighs. These changes give body the shape of an adult woman. Eating healthy foods and exercising regularly may help you stay fit.

You will have soft hair growing in your armpits and pubic area:

At least one year before a girl gets her period, soft hair starts to grow in the pubic area (the area between your legs) and armpits. At first the hair might be scattered and light in colour but as your body continues to change, it is normal for it to start getting darker, thicker and longer. If the hair really bothers you, find a good waxing walli or a good razor with which you can shave.

Development of Breasts:

As your body develops you will start to take on the shape of an adult woman. In most girls, this development starts with breast growth. It also means that you might need to start wearing a training bra from now on. In my case, everybody else started wearing a training bra years before I had to. I felt there was something wrong with me and that my body would never change! But the truth is that the onset of puberty occurs at different ages depending on the individual’s rate of growth and development, so every experience is unique.