Have you ever taken a sex education class? If you’re Arab, or live in the region, the answer is most probably no. This is why Zainab Alradhi founded Niswa—a platform that teaches young Arabs what their schools and families won’t.
“I kept my first period a secret, used toilet paper to soak up the blood, and did not dare to talk about it to my friends, older sister, nor mother because I was so ashamed that I had done something wrong”, she says before adding, “we had the “period lesson” a few months later at school. I felt cheated by the educational system, especially after realizing that what I had gone through was normal, healthy, and every single one of my classmates will experience it at one point. I needed this information months before.”
In the absence of comprehensive education and support, most teens and young adults are forced to rely on misinformation, and often feel ashamed and isolated.
Having launched in March 2019, in honour of International Women’s Day, Alradhi’s bilingual platform, which now boasts close to 22k followers, has turned into a digital safe space uncovering taboos surrounding contraception and menstruation.
“I didn’t learn the Arabic term for “vagina” until I was 20-years-old, and no one deserves to go through this level of disconnection with their bodies, especially at a young age. A person who knows her/himself and is connected to that emotionally and sexually, is an empowered person who is going to make informed choices with respect to the body that they inhabit”, she continues.
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Ever since Alradhi found out about the impact contraceptives have on women’s health and the environment, she has been committed to finding birth control that is hormone-free, side-effect-free and environmentally friendly.
When she found out about the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), her life was “changed forever”, as she put it, and she decided she had to pass on what she had learnt to others.
“Throughout the last five years, I have found a huge gap in Arabic content dedicated to body literacy, fertility awareness, and menstrual cycle awareness, and to be honest, this gap still exists as long as we have an overwhelming number of women who are misinformed about their bodies”, she explains. “And together we can change that”.
Here are six myths Niswa is helping to dispell.