Behind four walls, I’ve heard women giggling and snickering over what their mouths spelled out as V-A-G-I-N-A under indirect and mischievous jokes and speech. In my attempt to listen in and decipher what they were saying, I couldn’t comprehend much. I was either too young or too uninformed. I’d see their faces as they would flush and expressions would change into a bashful glare. Some would just make the conversation worse by sharing what their intimate relationships with their husbands felt like, and what their experiences in their biological and sexual journey was like compared to their expectations. Most were one of two: surprised or disappointed – and they were always two extremes.
I wanted to know though… Babies and children were scattered everywhere in this space, but I was too keen to listen in and understand their laughter, so I sat there, too curious:
“La 3aib roo7i menak 3nd el yehal, kalam kebareyah”
“لا عيب روحي مِناك عند اليهال، كلام كبارية.”
(no shameful go play with the kids, this is adult talk)
… Kalam kebareyah (adult talk) (كلام كبارية ..)
Enzain o kebart (I grew up).. (انزين و كبرت)
It was still 3eib (عيب) to discuss a woman’s sexuality, her vagina, her period, her wants, her needs, her femininity, herself, her pubes, her skin, her smell… everything…until she is married. Sub7an Allah (سبحان الله), as if marriage is a woman’s admittance to the world of her own self knowing, a ritual of her womanhood becoming, a climactic symphonic entrance towards actually “living” (inside my head: HONEY! IT’LL BE TOO LATE THEN!). That is until you actually talk about it and realize the amount of misinformation we have in the region around a woman’s sexuality and biology down under. Little can a Cosmopolitan magazine article do, which even in the mid 2000s were widely accessible to teen girls but were shamed with quizzes and entertainment articles on the subject.
Some schools don’t have health classes that teach girls basic health and understanding of Sex Ed. When I say Sex Ed it includes the study of human development both male and female, communication skills, understanding of sexual behavior, and physical health relating this to the relevant society and culture. See, it doesn’t sound so bad if the collective adult society actually tries to understand what Sex Ed is.
If it’s not through school education, prepubescent teens just search online. Even with parental monitoring, 12-year-old khaleeji kids today are more aware of sexual activities than the generation that came before them (and the age awareness is getting younger); I testify to this over numerous conversations I have had with my younger cousins where they talk about the opposite gender, meeting platforms, and secret accounts. Society thinks digital supervision works when it doesn’t. I become more dumbfounded by what kids see, know, and their stories. While they’re wilding in games, social groups and circles, and at school at 12, I was starting to outgrow barbies. And when it comes to leaving this up their mothers,it’s important to realize that not all mothers want to take that conversation further from “as girls grow up they bleed once about every 28 days”.
Numerous discussions over the years have gone back and forth about enforcing Sex Ed in government schools in the UAE.Parents still insist that this is not our way because “7aya” (حياء) is at stake. Some argue that it is against islamic teachings. If parents knew what their children know and do, they’d want to take the first cautionary and preventative step to the growing sexual curiosity the younger generation has. This also entails combating the stigmas that exist in khaleeji societies like hymens and menstrual health. Grown ass women still have the audacity to be ashamed of their own bodies. I one day hope to see girls nurture a healthier relationship with themselves.
The concept of 7aya (حياء) has always lied in the matter of knowledge. How do you know what 7aya (حياء) is if the knowledge of said topic is oblivious to you? How do you go about creating an approach for something you lack insight into ? Fear has always been the germ that infests and stalls a society’s progress. All that we ask for our youth are opportunities to have conversations that will help us learn from past mistakes and make us better.
We mask ignorance and lack of information for “7aya” (حياء). I can talk about my private parts in a manner that still displays self respect and I can do the opposite if I wanted to, but that means that my actions and speech are a result of my own conscious judgement. That means that I need to be exposed to the “right” information with the “right” delivery of information at an earlier point in my life. So when we don’t have the programs that better us it is because we as a people have yet proven trust of consciousness. Raising the consciousness of our sisters for themselves is uplifting the quality of womanhood and motherhood for the region. Shouldn’t that be part of the social affairs programming in the GCC?
It’s worse that women actually have to avoid verbalizing menstrual pad or even just “pads” by saying things such as “sandwich” just so men wouldn’t understand what they’re talking about when in public. “I need a new sandwich, I’ll be back,” she says as she walks towards the toilet. Or things like “time of the month” or “yatni hay.” (يتني هاي). Some would go to the extent to describe themselves as “ana najsa” (أنا نجسة). This degradation and self-hate speech of our divine biology manifested through collective society… is now outdated and requires reform.
An ending note:
Honor thy body and cycle
The moon and its tides
Your suns and blossoming womb…
Spread those thighs let your pelvis drop and sigh..
The body is in trance
With the breath
To a song that moves the soul
Nouf AlJahdami is an Emirati creative based in Dubai. Her work expands from theoretical research to essays and art pieces of various mediums. Her prime exploration is within topics of identity, spirituality, culture and developmental politics from the Middle east and Africa for the Western world. You can find her on instagram here.