Path-breaking anthology on diverse experiences of menstruation in South Asia

Menstruation, despite being a healthy and fundamental bodily process, is a topic often buried in fear and shame, and its discussion is even taboo in many societies. But a worldwide effort to bring conversations about menstruation and menstrual health into the open is now firmly underway.

“Period Matters” (Pan Macmillan), edited by human rights lawyer and writer Farah Ahamed, carries this important endeavour forward by bringing together a breadth of perspectives from well-known figures as well as those whose voices are missing from the mainstream. Essays, artwork, stories and poems from policy makers, entrepreneurs, artists, academics, activists, as well as interviews with those at the margins, such as the homeless and those living with disabilities, explore myriad aspects of how menstruation is experienced in South Asia.

While activist Granaz Baloch narrates how she defied traditional notions of tribal honour and conducted the first-ever menstrual health workshop in Balochistan, Radha Paudel writes about her mission to have menstrual dignity acknowledged as a human right in Nepal. Shashi Tharoor relays his radical Menstrual Rights Bill which was tabled in the Lok Sabha.

We hear from Erum about the challenges of getting one’s period when incarcerated, as Farzana and Chandan relate how mimicking the rituals of menstruation helps them feel more feminine as transwomen. Tishani Doshibreaks new ground with a poem about her uterus. Ayra Indrias Patras describes how some poor women in Pakistan managed their period during the Covid-19 pandemic. Aditi Gupta reflects on promoting menstrual literacy among young children across India through the Menstrupedia comic books. In a personal essay, Lisa Ray reveals how her illness triggered an early onset of menopause.

The book also showcases menstrala, or art inspired by menstruation, ranging from Rupi Kaur’s iconic photo essay, Anish Kapoor’s oil paintings, Shahzia Sikander’s neo-miniaturist art, photographs of wall murals made by young people in Jharkhand, to Sarah Naqvi’s embroidery. Amna Mawaz Khan offers a perspective through the choreography of her menstrual dance.

The cover, designed by Sukruti Anah Staneley, contains menstrala artwork by Lyla FreeChild, who harvested her own menstrual blood for the painting. The complete painting forms a part of the book’s art section.

A collection of breathtaking scope and significance, “Period Matters” illustrates with power, purpose and creativity both the variances and commonalities of menstruation.

Farah Ahamed’s essays and short fiction have been published in anthologies and journals including The White Review, Ploughshares, The Massachusetts’ Review and The Mechanics’ Institute Review. Her short story “Hot Mango Chutney Sauce” was shortlisted for the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. You can read more of her writing at farahahamed.com.

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