Thursday, January 24, 2019

Public Debate: Social Media in a Shrinking Space?

Zororai Murugare Msonga Mtukudzi (1952-2019)

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Video 4 za Kongamano la Wanazuoni la Karim Hirji

Diana Kamara na Changamoto za Uwanafunzi

Marjorie Mbilinyi na Changamoto za Ualimu

Mwanahamisi Salim na Changamoto za Uwanazuoni

Jenerali Ulimwengu na Changamoto za Uwanaharakati

Breakfast Talk on Social Media & Shrinking Space

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

CFA:Building Africa's Future on African Philosophy

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Mada za Kongamano la Wanazuoni kuhusu Karim

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Kongamano la Kuenzi Mchango wa Karim F. Hirji

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Bloody Injustice…

Bloody Injustice…

Mwanahamisi 'Mishy' Singano

We all seem to know that women and girls have menstrual periods every month. It is common knowledge, right? But do we know its attendant bloody injustice that we are part of? If you don’t, then you are part of the problem… 

I am not a medical doctor, so, I will not try to explain the biological processes leading to women's menstrual periods or, as we call it in Swahili, hedhi. What I can only tell you is that menstruation is a normal biological routine for all mature women except those in menopause. As such, it is a health thing. What astonishes me, however, is how the sexist world has virtually decided to make this biological routine the most shameful thing. This is the case even though almost half of the world is bleeding every month.

 How unjust this is!

When I got my first period, 23 years ago, my mom did not talk to me – it's taboo. Instead, she called my aunts. They handed me pieces of the popular East African light cotton fabric known as khanga. The first rule was that NOBODY (that includes my mom, cousins, and relatives) should know when I am in my period. Could you imagine that? I was forbidden to talk about my own blood! The world can indeed be a strange place for some of us. 

They instructed me to dry my pieces of khanga under the mattress so no one else would see them. I was also ordered to avoid any unnecessary movements. This meant I should aim to stay home every time when I am bleeding! Then comes the other instructions:

'Mwanahamisi, don’t water flowers; don’t go to farm and harvest; don’t wash your father's clothes, don’t pray, don’t fast …, don’t …this, don’t… that.'

 There were so many DON'Ts than DOs to the extent that I felt my period is a punishment - and I hated it!

Luckily, I went to secondary school. One day the bell rang and all girls were asked to assemble in the school hall. A sanitary pads company was marketing its product. That was the first day I was introduced to sanitary pads. Mind you, I was not raised in a remote rural area, I was raised in a thriving urban center. Yet it took a company to come sell its products for me to know that there is another option than wearing a khanga! I decided to abandon khanga right away. But the struggle was real. It was so difficult to master the art of wearing pads with ‘wings’ without a 'master' to guide me. 

I also had to save my own meagre school stipends to buy pads. Why? Because I remembered what I was taught, that NO ONE should know that I am menstruating. If I asked my parents for money, they would definitely know. So, I didn’t. 

Years later, a clan of marital experts sat me down to prepare me for marriage. They told me again that my husband SHOULD NEVER KNOW that I am in my period. But this time I had my University degree and I was a half-baked feminist. So, I asked them, how will it be possible for a person ought to be my better-half not to know I am in my period? The answer was consistence: He shouldn’t!

They instructed me to hide my pads in my wardrobe. I was also taught signs to alert him covertly about my bleeding. And I was again showered with an endless list of DON’Ts. This time I made a vow not to obey. To my surprise, I find out that he too was made to believe that a woman's period is the thing he shouldn’t know about, talk about or care about. If anything, he should stay as far from me as he could - and he did. That was a systematic, first-class injustice!

Early last year, I took a pledge to contribute to the struggles to end this bloody injustice. I believe every woman has a right to have a decent period. This means granting all women unlimited access to information, services, facilities, and products they need for safer and healthier menstruation. While progress has been made, especially in urban centers, most women and girls are still battling bloody injustice. This is particularly the case in rural areas.

A few months into the pledged campaign, I was stunned at how uncomfortable people are to talk about a menstruation period and how little they know about it - men and women alike. In several WhatsApp groups where I made a deliberate decision to constantly talk about periods, I have witnessed men and women shocked when I post pictures of tampons and menstrual cups. These are middle-class Tanzanians who are exposed to a number of state-of-the art things but, when it comes to periods, they are still stuck in outdated teachings and taboos that may have served a useful purpose in the past. Yet they see nothing wrong about that. I feel the patriarchal world categorically makes it a mission to deny us up-to-date information and knowledge about periods. And because we know less, we can hardly complain how unjust this state of affairs is.

As a country, we still do not have comprehensive statistics on menstrual health. We have not documented, in a consistent manner, women experiences. It is estimated that only 20 percent of women in Tanzania are using improved menstrual products – mostly pads. The rest are using rags, cow dung, banana leaves, pieces of mattress, etc. Lack of facts and figure limits our ability to make informed policy decisions, which leads to a vicious cycle of shamefulness. Our society generally rejects systematic, open conversations on periods and our policies are equally blind. Hence, this is a state-engineered and society-endorsed kind of injustice.

Nonetheless, I am grateful to the tax exemption decision on sanitary pads that resulted from a public outcry against the bloody injustice. It was a step in the right direction. First, prices have gone down – at least from most wholesalers   yet a lot need to be done to ensure the same is reflected to the last-mile consumers. Second, taxing menstruation is hardcore patriarchy, so, I am thankful that a bold statement has been made that periods should NOT be taxed.

 Now, what is left is 'normalizing' periods and ensuring they are factored in our thought processes and reflected in our planning and implementation across the board. As one feminist has aptly asked: "What would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?" In the case of Tanzania, the answer is also indeed clear: Periods will surely be prioritized.

In 2019, we should all take a minute to imagine menstrual experience of girls and women living with disabilities. Most of them constitute the majority of poverty-stricken families, hence, with less likelihood to afford sanitary products from the market. "I wish I could be able to wash my period rags, but I don’t have hands and I feel bad for my relatives who are doing that for me and I totally understand when they get tired to do that sometime, I would be tired washing someone’s blood every month too," said one of the amazing young lady living with physical disability that I talked to.

We  should also think of women in custody/jail with no access to improved menstrual products and decent facilities like running water and toilets. To date, we know little of menstrual experiences of those women, especially in countries where remands/prisons are crowded. Like other women, they also have a right to safe periods.

People living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) in poor conditions also suffer a lot from bloody injustice due to lack of protective gears for their carers and limited access to sanitary pads. In my conversation with a woman who cares for an AIDS patient, she stressed that the biggest challenge is when the patient is in her period. Washing her periods' rags became sensitive and concerning to both of them. 

While some of us are committed to break traditional barriers in 2019 by 'normalizing' periods, challenging taboos, and involving men to talk and care about menstruation, the government can easily ensure women in custody, PLHA’s, and people with disabilities especially in schools have access to menstrual products, facilities, and knowledge they need to bleed in decency. It’s not that hard. The government has to be intentional and strategic by channelling available support to communities, which need them the most. 

To my fellow women, let’s be a bit adventurous in 2019. May we commit ourselves to learn more and talk often about our periods. Let us upgrade our experiences. You don’t deserve to be stuck on what your gramma told you. Spoil yourself with ‘new menstrual trends’ in town. To husbands and fathers, be part of the solutions.

 Otherwise, we will remain part of the continued bloody injustice…

 Happy New Year!

Karibu kwenye ulingo wa kutafakari kuhusu tunapotoka,tulipo,tuendako na namna ambavyo tutafika huko tuendako/Welcome to a platform for reflecting on where we are coming from, where we are, where we are going and how we will get there

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