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!


A. Massawe January 2, 2019 at 2:00 PM  

Expected this well learned one would dwell on who is to blame for the irresponsible ˗ unhygienic disposal of the used sanitary pads seen scattered everywhere together with the used plastic pads disposed off recklessly¸ and how they could have been disposed off hygienically.

I think our women could be shamed for it because they are the responsible for this reckless disposal of the sanitary pads they already used.

They could also be shamed for the health dangers they expose themselves and others to¸ through the mercury and other toxins based skin bleaching creams (dwelt on here:

and here: they are using,

as well as for the fake hair they dress on to hide off their natural African hair in order to look as beautiful as like whites welt on here:

and here:

Also expected this well learned one would also call for the research which would come up with new innovative solutions which are friendlier to the environment and more efficient to apply in the management of menstruation developments¸ as well as in the management of their natural African hair natural African beauty enhancing.

Mcherecheta Mcherecheta January 2, 2019 at 3:15 PM  

Happy new year to you too. Mishy, you sound very convincing, congratulation praying that you win this campaign. To grown up men as me hope they will understand and I believe we take it as a normal situation whereby none should be discriminated save for religious beliefs only. For the young men where I have passed needs a lot of such explanations
I have an experience at primary school, a girl mate got her first breeding in the class. Ooh!no one sat on that chair. Another incidence is when my girlfriend stained herself at a my friends house where we were invited for lunch. I quarrelled with her that she ashamed me.
With this .com generation majority of old beliefs has been abandoned hope with this you will be understood

Unknown January 4, 2019 at 12:33 PM  

Dear Mcherecheta

I am glad that, this blog made you reflect on some key incidences that happened in your lives. Indeed we have all lived bloody injustices, the shame and stigma related to women blood has caused misery to both women and men... its about time we all came together to fight this injustice.

Unknown January 4, 2019 at 1:29 PM  

Dr Massawe

First, I would appreciate if you would address me using my name - I guess, Mishy is not as complicated to write and/or mention than the long sentences you have used. As women and black women (to be specific), we demand to be acknowledged and addressed by our names.

Second, you seems to give yourself a right to decide what women should and should not do. To you, women have no choices - they need to play by your book right? Given this blog focuses on the menstrual let me respond to your menstrual waste disposal claims

First, NO, I will not shame women for what you term as reckless disposal of menstrual waste - first as a country we do not have a comprehensive and systematic waste management systems - In urban centers we have waste collections facilities which are not effective and we have non in all rural settings, what we do is open cast disposal - that why we have plastics of all kind all over the place - So I would expect you to address the holistic problem of waste management in our communities than blaming women. If the system would be working you wouldn't saw pads all over - implying women should take extra measure to dispose their waste is to perpetuate stigma and push women to do what communities and men have failed to do. All waste is hazardous to our health.

Just to inform you, it is estimated less than 20% of Tanzanian Women are using improved sanitary products. Ideally we should be more focused to get more women using decent products and have safe and decent period. But because women are conscious of environment concerns, a lot of work has gone into managing waste and having products which are environmental friendly, speaking about menstrual cups, reusable pads and decomposed pads. Disposable facilities are not constructed in key institutions.

Lastly, we known there are quality concerns of the menstrual products - and because, menstrual is taboo, these concerns have not been shared and checked - number of partners are working hand in hand we regulatory authorities to review standards of menstrual products. Globally, there is growing campaign to demand all product producers to disclose ingredients and chemicals used to produce these products. We will get there, one step at a time.

So learned brother, educate yourself more before you make conclusive statement and baseless blames.

A. Massawe January 6, 2019 at 10:50 AM  

Mishy and the others¸

Fine¸ I would addressed the disposal of the menstrual sanitary pads waste in the community by a call for a research to create the easily and safely disposable˗ decompose-able in situ or through the toiletry systems¸ and affordable to all especially in the specific conditions of the rural environments¸ for example from organic tissues or organic tissues in organic cloth packaging¸ the government could endorse and promote through its education and health sectors.

I would also address the health problems of skin treatment creams many of our women are on by putting their importation and/or supervision of their application in the hands of the ministry of public health.

Again¸ would also addressed the health¸ disposal¸ Africans’ pride and foreign exchange cost issues of the application of artificial and the long hair harvested from other races many of our women are on with a ban of their application¸ as well as putting the supervision of natural hair treatments in the hands of the ministry of public health.

I didn’t address to you because it is to the general public I commented on the same to.

Moreover, there is no way I could addressed the shortage of efficient menstrual sanitary pads in total disregard of their disposal issues.

A. Massawe January 7, 2019 at 9:20 AM  

Reading the opinion which is alo very misleading from George Fumbuka here:

,thought I should advice him that:

All these are publicly debatable at all platforms of society throughout the family, tribal, national and global levels especially on their problematic aspects of global public concern for the educating of all on the values which are global¸ as well as for the enabling of collective public upbringing to contrite.

For example¸ what’s bad in a public talk (through the Parliament or the academia for example) for the possibility of making menstrual sanitary pads as efficient and environmental friendly as the toilet sanitary tissues also serving public healthcare so effectively are?

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