The big furore that led to another one these days is about an installation put up by art students at a university in Lahore as a form of protest. The piece comprised of sanitary napkins stuck on a wall, with messages written on them. The purpose of the installation was to prompt a discussion about menstruation, and why women and men feel so uncomfortable about it. If you are beginning to squirm then I would suggest you immediately turn to the next op-ed.

Over the ages what is an ordinary physical function has been separated from that definition and placed into another category altogether: women’s problems. Has it ever occurred to anyone why this is? A lot of indignant responses to the installation have compared menstruation to defecation or urination but the simple and obvious fact is that menstruation is never treated with the casualness of going to the bathroom. We live amongst serial excretors; people here pee and defecate in public all the time. But since only women menstruate, then it must be something dirty and horrible, and so over time women have been shamed and reviled for what really is a body process as normal any other. Some communities would send women away into temporary exile, subcontinental myth included the touch of a menstruating woman’s hand could turn milk sour, as if she were a witch. The menstruating woman is perceived as an unclean, somehow disgusting thing even though all women, all over the world, will go through the process for years. You’d think those kind of statistics would have rid the process of any stigma, but there you have it.

The heart of the matter is really how women are conditioned to regard their bodies with suspicion and dislike. Women pussyfoot around themselves their entire lives, because they are convinced that it is the decent thing to do. Somehow it is morally correct not to put your packet of Always into your shopping cart without a brown bag to discreetly hide it. To me, if anything, that bag makes the product screamingly obvious, calling attention to your purchase like a siren. Hey everyone! Look at this enormous brown packet, towering above the cereal and lemon squash! We all know what’s inside, it’s on display in the aisle without a covering, but once you pick it up it turns into a badge of shame! In England shops that stock racy magazines are now legally bound to cover them with a brown envelope. That makes sense because the covers of these magazines usually feature naked women, and a child in a newsagent’s doesn’t need to see that. But what is so shameful about a package of pads, pray tell, that one has to equate it with buying a Playboy? A biological function has been regrettably and inextricably linked to sexuality, and of course whenever women and sexuality are concerned they must be shut down immediately because honour, chastity, morality and basic decency are all within the exclusive purview of women. Of course. Let’s not also forget the chilling factor of child marriage, and how a girl arriving at menarche is taken to be a signal of her physical readiness for marriage, regardless of age. Girls as young as eight or nine can begin menstruating. Think about that for a minute, and of the little girls being raped by men twice or three times their age because they are now wives.

90 million women in Pakistan menstruate. I’m willing to bet if you asked any one of them about their feelings on the topic you would be met with a universal grimace. It won’t necessarily be because they think it’s gross (although many women do), but because of the enormous fuss that surrounds it. A huge amount of women don’t have access to running water or sanitary napkins. Women who do have the logistics of dealing with it easier. But you ask any woman about the pain, the mess, the anxiety of being discovered and you will hit a universal nerve. Thousands of young girls and women this Ramzan will be pretending to fast for five to seven days just so their fathers and brothers and colleagues and friends won’t know they’re on their period. Thousands of young girls won’t know what the heck is happening to them, crying in a bathroom at school because their mothers were too embarrassed to talk to them about what a period is, and now it’s begun and they think they’re dying. Thousands of women will be in tremendous pain every month because they might need medical help, but if you can’t even say the words to describe your condition how on earth can you get help?

This is why the installation was important. Because being uncomfortable and shocked by something is good- it makes us realise the boundaries of our comfort zones and, hopefully, triggers a reexamination of them. Why are so many people, women and men alike, disgusted by the sight of a pad? Why is this conversation dismissed as unimportant in the grand scheme of things? Everything is important. This is not a competition of hardships where women’s health comes in last. Menarche is a significant moment in any girl’s life, for a host of reasons. If we truly cared about their physical and emotional well-being we’d be spending less time retching at the idea of menstruation and more time talking to girls about it, providing them with the means to cope with it and letting them know that there’s nothing wrong or horrible about it. Don’t even pretend you’re on some moral high ground when you sanctimoniously say “some things should be kept private” as if something as common and ordinary as a period is a scandal, a shocking evil that must never be mentioned. It’s biology, not Voldemort.