Cultural taboo and the transition era

Maureen Nawer | Published: 00:00, Aug 11,2019 | Updated: 16:33, Aug 16,2019

Maureen Nawer, Cultural Taboo, Sex Education, Bangladesh

There is no denying that we live in a society which is always ready to judge anyone and anything that does not fit its set of values and norms. Secrecies about sex education or sexual health of adolescents are not benefitting the young generation. As this generation is more than willing to find their ways of lives for themselves, many youths are reluctant to conform to social expectations. Maureen Nawer sheds light on societal expectations and youths’ response to that    

BANGLADESH is a country of so-called Muslim culture. 90 per cent of the population is Muslim and the whole nation follows certain rules and regulations set by the majority. One of the qualities (read defects) of our cultural upbringing is judging others.

We, the Bengalis, love to judge others and talk about the faults in others’ lifestyles and how they are sinning through it. In our eyes, we are the perfect culture going to heaven and everyone else is faulty. But what we do not realise is that at the end of the day we are all judgmental sinners judging others for sinning differently.

Coming from a culture focusing constantly on sins, our generation grew up learning how the western culture is bad. How it promotes drinking and smoking, how their parties are nothing but a temple of satan.

Elders always talked about how it is spoiling the younger generation. Whenever someone announced their will to study abroad, was warned about the western culture, whether they want it or not; from expected or unexpected relatives.

Like, they all considered it to be their duty to advise them to stick to the Bangladeshi Muslim culture no matter what. Culture somehow became the highlight instead of their studies and ambition. Of course, we do not get to choose our own lifestyle.

Our generation is in the transition. Having the internet and Google at our finger tips, we tend to research on anything and everything we learn instead of just gulping down whatever our previous generation says which makes us the prime topic of gossip among the elders. Because we refuse to blindly follow the Islamic rules and regulations being followed over a hundred years.

Having the chance to research as much as we can, atheists and agnostics in this generation are on a rise. And hence, the gradual fall in the practice of the Bengali Muslim culture.

There are certain cultural taboos we face. Like, talking about menstruation, sex or pregnancy in front of the elders makes you a shameless kid. When I got my first menses, I did not even properly know what it was. My mother never talked to me about it, somehow she kept on thinking I was too young for this topic until one day I just had it.

Thankfully, there was some magazine article on women’s hormonal change that I came across before I got my first period which saved me. Because that day, neither was I at my own home, nor was my mother in the city that I would run to her for help.

An older cousin tackled my situation. During Ramadan, I was not allowed to eat in front of my father or brothers when I was on my periods. I would have to pretend to be fasting so that they do not understand. I was not allowed to share the same washroom with my dad during that time of the month either.

It never made sense to me but I followed what everyone else did around me. When I used to go to super shops, I would wait for the entire row to be empty before I picked up the sanitary napkins. It would often take 10/15 minutes of useless waiting. And I am alone. I have found other girls in this situation as I talked to others.

However, though these topics were an absolute ‘no’ in front of the elders, we girls would often discuss these among ourselves. After all, what are the girlfriends for, if they do not have your back when you are in the middle of the Sahara Desert and happen to get your periods? It is your girlfriends who will be the genie and take a pad out of their bags with the most comforting smile you will ever see.

I was 20 when I used to work part-time at an IELTS coaching centre alongside my university classes. It was an all-girls work place. So naturally, there was a lot of period talk. Though not married, most of us had boyfriends and a lot were sexually active as well.

So one day, while having a talk on the severity of period cramps, this colleague shares her experience. What she said can be boiled down to this — she went to a number of doctors regarding her horrendous period cramps and had been repeatedly told, ‘biye hoile thik hoye jabe’ (everything will be all right after your marriage), which in other words meant that the cramps are supposed to reduce or go away with regular sex.

Now comes the fun part; apparently, a lot others were told the same! They had a good laugh about it because the doctor did not know they were already sexually active and they could not say anything either since they all went with their moms. And if mom got to know that their daughter had sex before marriage, all hell will break loose.

They laughed because four people shared the same story. This certain little incident triggered this thought in me that how our cultural taboo is refraining us from having a proper healthcare. There is an invisible scotch-tape on our lips that does not let us speak for the fear of being judged. This is just one such case.

I was taking my second dose of HPV vaccination when I overheard the gynaecologist shaming a couple who wanted an abortion of an accidental pregnancy because they are not ready for a child. They were shamed with religious facts, cultural facts and lastly, emotionally blackmailed by asking them to not deprive their parents of grandparenthood by killing the child.

I do not know what the couple had decided later on as I left after my due injection. As I returned home, I could not help but keep on thinking — even after marriage we are not allowed to choose our own life. We must take so many other things into consideration.

Do not get me wrong, I am not supporting abortion here, but I do think that the husband and wife reserves every right to decide whether they want a child right now or not, as long as it is not a health hazard, I think their decision should be respected.

We are a generation who prioritises work over building a family. Women, nowadays, do not rush to get pregnant as soon as they get married. Though the parents of the bride and groom expect so, less and less women tend to fall in that pressure every year and I could not be happier.

Couples of our generation seemed to have overcome the statement — your first pregnancy must happen within two years of marriage — and the majority of the mothers do not seem to be happy about it.

However, I think we have pretty well established the fact that our own mental health and self-satisfaction is of a much higher value here. Everyone is entitled to their own freedom of choice — period.

Maureen Nawer believes in adding life to your days instead of adding days to your lives.

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