Farah Ahamed interviewed by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

12 Mar 2023
Times of India

My interest in period poverty goes back to more than a decade ago. But I first came across the problem that young girls were facing more than twenty years ago, when I was working in Uganda at the Aga Khan Foundation and I came across an article in the newspaper that talked about how school girls were missing classes and exams because of their period. I was shocked to realise this. And it made me wonder how much I’d taken for granted. But it took ten years after that for my sisters and I to actually sit down and put together the idea of Panties With Purpose, which is a campaign to raise awareness and provide access to menstrual products to girls in school…

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Where are indigenous women’s stories?

1 Jan 1970
Daily Star, Bangladesh

An extract from Period Matters was published in the Daily Star, Bangladesh, for International Women’s Day 2023.

Daily Star, Bangladesh

How do woman writers write the world?

8 Mar 2023

While Farah Ahamed deals with the diverseness of menstrual taboos and cultural practices (including those faced by transpeople) in South Asia in Period Matters, art historian Catherine McCormack turns an unflinching eye on the treatment of female bodies in the “masterpieces” created by male artists in her book Women in the Picture. Both books encapsulate a very particular rage of being denied the agency of your own body and having a say on its functioning – a rage that almost all women are familiar with.

Period Matters & International Women’s Day 2023

8 Mar 2023
Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

On International Women’s Day, it is worth reflecting upon this statistic. According to UNICEF’s 2019 Menstrual Hygiene report, 1.8 billion people Menstruation globally and millions of those are unable to exercise their right to good menstrual health and dignity due to discriminatory norms, cultural taboos, poverty and lack of access to basic amenities. Adolescent girls often face stigma and social exclusion during menstruation, resulting in school absenteeism and frequent dropouts. Women with lower literacy levels face additional chronic nutritional deficiencies and health problems. Cumulatively, these practices have far-reaching negative consequences on the lives of girls and women as they restrict their mobility, freedom, choices, affect attendance and participation in school and community life, compromise their safety and cause stress and anxiety…

What Has Dignity Got to Do with Menstrual Health?

8 Dec 2022

This essay provides an overview of the key challenges in menstrual health faced by women and adolescent girls in rural Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (UP), India, during 2018-19, within the framework of the literature on dignity. The purpose of the inquiry was to explore whether there was any link between social dimensions anchored in dignity and better menstrual health outcomes.

The literature on dignity, discussions with civil society organisations working on period poverty and menstrual health awareness both in the UK and India have been instrumental in shaping this inquiry with menstrual health and not menstrual hygiene at its centre, as has been previously done.

By situating menstruation under the ‘health’ umbrella, attention is drawn to the normal functions of the female body, the well-being of women and their families, as well as the social dimensions that affect them. The reference to hygiene, on the other hand, has connotations of cleanliness and disease prevention…

Aadya Shakti, or Primal Energy

10 Dec 2022
The Dream Machine

When I was asked to make menstrual art for this book [Period Matters], ‘Aadya Shakti’ had been on my mind for several months. The political turbulence and ecological strife in my environment had been upsetting me. I kept asking myself: what is the ultimate answer to the violence and anger? The answer came to me in a dream one night and I felt convinced that reclaiming the ancient belief in the magical qualities of menstrual blood through art could be one way of healing the ruptures that were plaguing our planet. I decided I would illustrate the mystical aspect of menstrual blood to portray how women are connected to Mother Earth through their menstrual cycle. Menstrual blood has the power to create peace and regenerate the earth, and I felt the strong need to bring this vision of the feminine life force to life through my art.

The idea birthed in my dream was initially a motif of many lotus flowers floating in a sea of blood. In India, the lotus is a political symbol and the logo of a right-wing political party, but in many cultures the flower is used to depict enlightenment, fertility and rebirth. I resolved to erase the negativity and hatred through my painting and reclaim the purity of the lotus…

Menstruation in Fiction: The Authorial Gaze

10 Dec 2022
The Dream Machine

Fiction has always been the place where ‘forbidden’ subjects are explored, and writers have dared to probe various aspects of sexuality, thereby offering readers a window into an understanding of the subject or an alternative perspective.

Writers from all cultures have seen the breaking of silence as their main task. In her book The Novel of the Future (1947), Anais Nin wrote, ‘The writer’s task is to overthrow the taboos rather than accept them.’ In her short stories, she never shied away from illuminating moments of sexuality, no matter how transgressive they were. Similarly, around the same time, Ismat Chughtai, known as Urdu’s wicked woman, wrote about sexual experiences in verse with great candour. She was charged with obscenity and put on trial for her short story Lihaaf  (The Quilt) which had erotic and lesbian undertones. Later, in an interview, she said she hated the suffocation in the lives of her characters, and that being trapped in ideas of shame and honour was absurd…

What If

8 Dec 2022
The Punch Magazine

Note by Farah Ahamed: I wrote the poem What If in response to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem What if You Slept? His poem is about a dream where the sleeper finds herself in heaven and picks a ‘strange and beautiful flower,’ and on waking  finds the flower in her hand.

In contrast, my poem, What If is from the point of view of a poor sweeper woman, and about her living nightmare. Rather than a flower, she finds a broom in her hand. Because of her gender, class and caste, her occupation is ancient and fixed. She cannot escape this destiny which includes working with dirt, navigating through public spaces where she is an ‘invisible’ person, and bleeding on a dirty rag during her period. I wrote the poem moved by the stories of the sweeper women of Lahore, in Ayra Inderyas’ essay in Period Matters (Pan Macmillan India).

Menstrual Matters: Shashi Deshpande on how she grew out of the halo of shame around periods

8 Dec 2022
The Punch Magazine

December 8 is marked as the International Day for Dignified Menstruation. Novelist Shashi Deshpande, whose fiction openly mentions menstruation, narrates her own story of menstruation and how she grew out of the shame and misconceptions associated with it.

My mother narrated this story to me in what now seems such a distant past that I am surprised I remember it at all. Time has nibbled, of course, at the edges of the story, but the core of it remains intact. It is the story of the wedding of my mother’s older sister…

Farah Ahamed On The Diversity and Creativity of the Menstruation Experience

9 Dec 2022
British Asian Women's Magazine

What inspired Period Matters: Menstruation in South Asia?

I’ve been working on period poverty in Kenya for the past decade. Through my campaign Panties with Purpose we have been carrying out reproductive health workshops and distributing underpants in schools. We distributed over 50,000 pairs to more than 16,000 girls. Reflecting on this experience, I had the idea that the diversity of menstruation could best be illustrated in a book which included every genre. I decided the anthology would move away from the conventional to a deeper and more honest cultivation of stories about menstruation…

Hot Mango Chutney Sauce

20 Sep 2022

Farah Ahamed’s story, Hot Mango Chutney Sauce, was shortlisted for the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

“It was only yesterday that the last girl, Maryam, took her turn with paracetamol and cheap alcohol. A few weeks earlier, Zainab had done the same, but Laila, who followed Hafsa, had slit her wrists. When the police took us in for questioning, we said we were ready to cooperate. We even offered to share our photographs. After all, who better than we could explain what happened to the girls? We sit in the row of kiosks on the left side of the car park as you face the front of the shrine. From behind the curtains of tasbihs, wooden rosaries and Ajrak scarves hanging on the frames of our windows, we observed the events as they unfolded in the shrine compound…”

Read the full story, and watch the office music video of Hot Mango Chutney Sauce, starring Meesha Shafi and featuring Swineryy.

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Period! Magazine, Netherlands

26 Sep 2022
Period Media

We sincerely enjoyed this brand new volume [Period Matters].  In this intriguing anthology you’ll find essays, artwork, stories and poems from politicians and policymakers, entrepreneurs, artists, academics, students, activists, nuns, prisoners and the homeless. Together this provides a glimpse into the way menstruation is viewed by people from different backgrounds, religions and classes. While activist Granaz Baloch narrates how she defied traditional notions of tribal honour and conducted the first-ever menstrual health workshop in Pakistan, 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 Indian parliament.

The director of Period Media, writes: “I really enjoyed reading Period Matters. Text, artwork, insights: every single aspect of your book. Thumbs up! It’s on the top of our updated book overview now.”