The Course of Reason

Girls Discriminated Against for Menstruation (and What You Can Do About It)

July 14, 2011

Chris Burke from the Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers of Waterloo shares his feelings about school activities that use religion to justify discrimination against young women.

This post originally appeared on the Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers of Waterloo’s blog.

My previous post was on a Toronto school allowing Muslim prayers to take place during the period following lunch.  Now, thanks to an article in the Toronto Star, we have even more reason to be opposed to what is taking place.  The previous story had alleged that students were being seperated by gender.  There is now photographic evidence of this:

The girls sitting at the back during Friday prayers are menstruating and not allowed to sit with everyone else.

“Feminism is my credo, and my eye was instantly drawn to the fact that girls are placed in the back, behind the boys, separated by benches used as shields.

And menstruating girls are segregated, off in their own little group…

Stigmatized, bleeding mysteriously and bewildered by maternal instructions, these girls are not allowed to pray (I am told other religions require this as well). You can see them in the Star‘s photograph, the boys at the front, the girls hidden behind, flattened in prayer, and the girls with periods sitting cross-legged or kneeling.

These girls are in grades 7 and 8. OMG I am like totally remembering myself at that age and I would like have died of embarrassment except that I noticed even then that no one ever actually does. That’s unfortunate.”

School should be about teaching equality between the sexes.  That one is not suprerior to another and that the natural functions of the body are not grounds for discrimination.

At a young age, these women are already being told that their worth is less than that of their male counter-parts. In a society that puts enough pressure on women as it is, the actions of this school and the religious leaders are simply deplorable.  Disucssions regarding menstration are challenging as it is.  If school is about education, then it needs to educate, not discriminate.

Mallick describes how the West is still opening up to discussions around this bodily function:

“I speak as a person who loves being female, but it is a huge drag on your career, carries with it a constant threat of violence and is, well, exhausting. Men are one thing but other females can be even more tiring. Plus you get your period around age 11-13 and how this event is handled casts a shade, good or bad, on the arc of your development as a female.

Men know nothing about this. Tina Fey in her new book of essays,Bossypants, recalls trying to get a comedy sketch about feminine napkin advertising past the male writers at Saturday Night Live. She was describing the horror of being a young girl wearing what felt like a saddle with, of all things, belts (I am not making this up. Thankfully, they use strips now that adhere to your underwear).

She discovered that the men weren’t opposed to the sketch because they were guys. They simply had no idea what she was talking about. It did not occur to them that all women start out with this level of humiliation. You worried about leaks? Huh?

I assumed things had improved for young girls, which has always been the only true point of feminism, to make things better for them. But little has changed. I don’t think modern mothers necessarily teach their daughters about that glorious invention, the tampon.

The girls at this school aren’t toughened for ridicule, which is only part of the reason I hate their being singled out for a female function we are still learning to discuss openly in the modern West.”

Mallick closes her article by asking if anyone else will stand up for the young girls that are too shy to stand up alone.  She mentions school board trustee Michael Coteau, who has expressed his desire to see the prayer service follow the gender-equity rules of the school (I know.  The ideal would be to have the prayer sessions removed from the school).  You can e-mail Coteau to express your desire to see the rules respected.  It’s  up to you if you want to make a point about the seperation of Church and State.



About the Author: Chris Burke

Chris Burke's photo
Chris Burke holds a Bachelors in Environmental Studies: Honours Environment and Business from the University of Waterloo. Next he will be working towards a Masters of Environmental Studies in Sustainability Management. He's an active member of the Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers of Waterloo student group. In his spare time he enjoys reading and playing music.




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