A gendered approach to tackling menstruation

Today we celebrate the international Menstrual hygiene day under theme making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030.

We celebrate with this theme at a moment when there are still lot’s of myths and shame around menstruation. At a moment when the sociopolitical crisis in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon has increased women’s and girls’ challenges in line with menstruation. These challenges range from from accessibility, affordability, and availability. For girls in most urban areas (such as Buea where I live), the cost has increased from 600 FCFA to 700FCFA.

In war-torn communities in the South West and North West regions of Cameroon, where the crisis has forced families to leave their homes to seek safety and refuge in hideouts (bushes, farms, forests), Vanessa(2021) conducted some research where she found out the following as regards how women and girls manage their periods.

A woman shared that she spends time at the river banks while the moving water washes off her menstruation. She’ll stay there till it’s night then she returns to her shelter. She’ll repeat this till her period is over . Another woman shared that she actually cut a part of her mattress and used it in collecting her menstruation. She will keep washing it when it’s so heavy and wet, then reinsert in her vagina and will keep repeating this process till her period is over.

In the Northwest, another respondent indicated that she makes use of grass used for roofing to collect her menstruation. In some cases, respondents indicated that they use spirogyra and others use unprocessed cotton gotten from plants, and use parasites that grow on cocoa plants. Others still chop off pieces of clothes and use them often to collect their periods. The risks associated with these methods of menstrual hygiene management are grave.

While the theme has an aspect of normalizing menstruation, lots of lectures and messages on menstruation, or menstrual hygiene management has constantly left men and boys at side the entire equation. I strongly advocate for the inclusion of boys and men in such conversations and interventions for a couple of reasons.

For children who lose their mothers during or after birth, or before menarche, and do not have any other female family member to support them, who supports them through this period as they question the changes happening to them. Teens ask questions such as; why do they have tender and painful breasts just during this period? Teens ask questions seeking to know why blood is dripping out of them without a cut. They ask questions such as, who do I talk to in times like this? Since this is a taboo topic in most homes, children or teens often have a hard time communicating their worries at this stage, or even having responses even if they get to ask.

In effect, some tend to use untidy pieces of clothes to catch their menses, while some stay out of school or isolate themselves during this period.

A Muslim teenager in a menstrual hygiene management session once told me “when ever I’m menstruating, I’m not allowed to pray in the mosque because I’m considered unclean at the moment”.
Again, another Christian teenager said ” I learnt that in our culture, women can’t plant crops or touch growing plants when they are menstruating because the crops will either die or not do well”. This is a reality with women of the Dikume Baluwe culture of the Oroko tribe in the Southwest region of Cameroon. During menstruation, they are not allowed to carry luggage on their backs, or cook for elderly men. All these are myths as they have no scientific backing. Though not backed, these myths are numerous, and vary from community to community and have far reaching consequences on women and girls.

How do girls feel comfortable when stained among boys when boys have no idea what menstruation is? How do girls feel okay when rather than having support from boys the Boys rather jeer or laugh at the girls? When will girls and women normalize not wrapping their sanitary pads in numerous plastic bags out of shame? When will parents (especially in rural areas engage honest and open conversations with their children (both boys and girls)?

While in the secondary school (form four) I studied biology. When we got to menstruation, my teacher (male) said it’ll be treated in the next class (form five), and we shouldn’t bother we’ll not be evaluated in the test. In form five our human biology teacher (female) asked us to study this topic as an assignment and that she wasn’t sure we’ll have it in the exams. I came to understand they found it as a taboo topic of conversation with children. But then, information is power, and we were deprived.

The conflict in the both English speaking regions has left some male children as child-headed households. How do they support their female siblings while they have no information on the subject? And how do the men who lost their wives during the war help their female children with no mother in their lives?

While I was in the primary school, female teachers had sessions with older girls on menstruation. Though in the same class, I was never included in these sessions as I was probably considered too young. But then, when children learn about periods early, they prepare better. I learnt about menstruation through informal conversations along rows in the classroom and under trees in school from older girls with nothing from my parents.

In line with the theme of celebration this year, menstruation will not be considered normal for all (age and sex), till we normalize using an inclusive approach that seeks to include men,boys, girls and women in conversations around Menstrual hygiene, and menstrual hygiene management.

#ConflictsDontStopPeriods
#menstruationmatters
#menstrualhygiene
#PAW

My Heroine – At The Other Side

As we grow up in our different homes and communities, we are trained to run this that activity. With this stereotyped mentalities, we find it just right and needless changing. But in total sincerity we need to change some of these assumptions, as we consider the other side of the story.

I lived the first 19 years of my lived within the hills and Valleys of Lebialem. My dad came just as work could permit. This left us spending a greater portion of our life with our mom. This made me experience so much she did, which in many occasions is considered masculine. For example

1) The man is the “bread winner of the family: I saw in her a woman who gave in all her efforts. She did multiple rapid income generating activities, just do her children don’t go hungry. She met other needs without looking up all the times at the traditional male figure. Then I knew providing for the household was not entirely a masculine responsibility, but women do this do.

2) A woman should be soft: I saw in her a woman who worked so hard on the farms. She did clear the farms in the rains, even in days that seemed like it rained cats and dogs. This was same on the very sunny days, which came with some earth scorching heat. Then I knew working extremely hard wasn’t a man’s thing.

3) A man should walk in a way, look strong and beards: I had this friend who told me I fear your mother. I asked him why, and he said she doesn’t walk like a woman should. With this funny look, he added ” and she even has some beards around her chin “. It was funny he was talking about my mother here, but we laughed over this at the time. At least we reasoned the same because we probably had the same social construction process. By now, I learnt that society has simply defined what they should classify as masculine, and what should be feminine. Beards around the chin or a walking style does not make a female become male, but community does. And it’s not right.

4) Men must exercise strength: she was, and is still a very powerful woman. I remember this day after harvesting plantain from one of our farms, a neighbour could not imagine she’s the one who did. I heard this man say this to her ” you just cut the stalk of that plantain like a man “. They both laughed over this. But I kept wondering why he said this. When he left, I asked my mom why he said that. Her response was shocking to me. She told me culturally it is believed that men are powerful and will give at most two cuts to bring down the stalk of a plantain. A thing she did at just one cut. At that age, it wasn’t funny to me. But the lesson leant is the fact that, it’s just an assumption that only men have to exhibit strength in their actions.

5) A married woman with kids should look after her kids and not taking education as an option: my mom gave birth to 4 of us. I remember I was in the primary school when my mom started with a vocational training school. She switched to a technical school, went to the high school, then to the professional school. Many castigated her. Many criticised her. Many tried to discourage her. Some in their gossips questioned if she was to look after kids or go to school. They even concluded that she can’t succeed. When i think about her and her take to go back to school, I respect her. Her move made other men in the neighbourhood to send their wives to school. Many women around her started taking the initiatives to get literate. This to me is amazing.

During my four years in in the university while studying Women and Gender Studies with a second major in Sociology and Anthropology, my thinking gradually changed. I could understand the community in which I grew up. I found the gaps and the need to bridge them. I didn’t see things same as at first.

It so happened that everything that was said left me with an image of this woman who seemed to have been so different despite her level of education at the time. I hope her moves serve as a booster to all who will read this piece.
A good number of stereotyped tend to kill the possibility of most women and girls from living up till their fullest potentials.

“Ending Female Genital Mutilation is not a choice”

FGM is a human right violation

Some human right violations cannot be wiped out completely, if cultural norms repugnant to natural justice are not deconstructed. In Cameroon, there exist over 360 ethnic groups. This implies that, although some of these groups might have some tiny similarities in their cultures, the differences in norms, traditional practices and values cannot be over emphasised. Though some of these practices are good, a number of them can be classified as serious human rights violations.

Cases as such include Female Genital Mutilation, which can still be traced in some parts of the centre, and South west regions of Cameroon. This practice is not just recorded in Cameroon. most especially as Cameroon currently records a great decrease in the FGM prevalence rates in the nation.

In the context of Cameroon, FGM is perpetrated by women on young girls, with the intention of retarding sex. In other words, preventing the girl child from becoming promiscuous at a tender age. This really sounds nice. But let’s look at it from this angle; With the practice,

.She stands the chance of bleeding till the cold hands of death snatch her away.
. She could contract HIV and other STIs.
. It makes her vulnerable to fistula(s).
. It violates her rights over her sexuality.
. She is traumatised
. It negatively impacts her psychology.
. She feels oppressed, suppressed, and violated.
. She ends up in deep and sharp pains.

This is just too much for the girl child to bare. It only doesn’t affect her at that age. It drives her adult hood.

What if we preserve her heath? What if you give her the right over her own sexuality? The questions just can’t end here.

We need to grant justice to women and the girl child.
We need to deconstruct negative traditional practices which violates human rights.
The time is now.

FGM is a human right violation directed towards women and the girl child.

INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN: THEME: Leave no one behind: END VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS.

SPEAK OUT

violence against women (V.A.W) is any act of gender based violence that result in physical, psychological or physical harm or sufferings to women including threats such as coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty. It could be from home or otherwise. The W.H.O reports indicate that 1 in 3 women world wide have experienced either physical and sexual or intimate partner violence. Types of V.A.W include sexual, Psychological and Physical violence. This day is celebrated because V.A.W is a violation of Human rights, it impedes progress and exposes women to diseases and poverty.
Therefore, governments must not only sign conventions in relation to the elimination of V.A.W, but also have to see in to its effective application. V.A.W has to be condemned from primary levels. old laws supporting this act have to be eradicated. gender equality should be promoted at all levels.

BREAKING THE SYNDROME OF RAPE FROM OUR SOCIETIES

Girls around the world and Cameroon particularly  suffer rape from direct family members, friends , intimate partners, and strangers. Consequently, the victims are exposed to societal stigmatization and rejection. Also, victims run a risk of contracting STDS. Unfortunately, these victims become less self confident in taking action and are rejected. Because of threats, lark of self worth and fear for stigmatization, victims hardly report these cases or break the silence. often, I think rape occurs because of the sexual objectification of girls and women,the  societal stereotypes that  regard girls as inferior to men, vulnerable, weak and less defensive.

Today therefore, thanks to Gender Empowerment and Development (GeED) in collaboration with HEforSHE, I advocate for the rights of the girl child by condemning rape in all it’s forms, through the inclusion of boys and men in the fight against rape. Family members friends and love ones should engage in this fight by abolishing the blame the victim approach, punish perpetrators. By so doing, we will promote a peaceful and inclusive society for sustainable development.

#SPEAK OUT