Stella Nyanzi has intrigued me just as she has many other people in recent days and I begin by asking myself, who is Stella Nyanzi? Is she a feminist? Is she an activist? Is she an educationalist? Is she a rebel with a cause? I think first and foremost I’d say Stella Nyanzi is a hero to hundreds and thousands of little girls and women who know where she is coming from, in terms of defending women’s rights to sanitary towels.
Although her standpoint may seem personal, she has turned the personal into a huge political issue. She has taken the very central issue of periods and gone to the heart of what it means to be female. She has gone to the heart of gender issues.
Feminists the world over will talk about how the personal is political but Nyanzi has thrown it right out there in the open and we have all suddenly understood how something that we perceive as very personal, indeed private, can become so political. That is the crux of the matter.
And so Stella Nyanzi in defending girls’ rights to sanitary towels is accused of being vulgar. But we need to take a moment to ask ourselves who or what is really vulgar here. Is it Stella Nyanzi speaking profanities or is it the situation of the hundreds of girls, who have been shamed, teased, ridiculed, laughed at, until they’ve cowered with embarrassment or run out of class in tears, or stayed at home in shame, because of their menstrual periods? I think we must agree that the real vulgar thing here is that this scenario happens at all.
The issue of sanitary towels goes to the heart of education. Every child has the right to education and to development, to personal development of the body and the mind. If education is a right, then its denial is a violation of a right. And if it is denial of a right based on one’s gender, then it amounts to gender discrimination, which under the Constitution is a human rights violation.
So really what we are talking about is that the denial of sanitary pads to girl’s amounts to gender discrimination, which is a denial of girl’s human rights. Right.
However we may not even need to go so far as to talk about sanitary towels in terms of human rights violations. We can talk about it simply as a social injustice. This is because it is affects those girls without the ability to provide for themselves. Therefore the lack of provision and facilities in schools is social injustice.
And so what is this government to do? Nyanzi has turned the personal into political and the only way is to use the antidote - You get personal. But unfortunately getting personal must be done on the right side. That means the government must turn this into its pet project. It means someone must come on board to say “You know what, girls rights to sanitary pads is a hell of an important thing for this country. It goes to the heart of development because keeping girls in school is educating half the nation and if you educate women you educate the nation. And so from henceforth we are going to make damn sure girls in school, have sanitary pads”.
They can go on to say that, “And as for Nyanzi and her sanitary suppliers, we are going to applaud them for bringing this to our attention because we did not know”.
And forthwith Nyanzi resumes her job, her travel ban is lifted and if she is summoned at all, it is to dinner, to be wined and dined and thanked profusely for bringing this to our attention. That is the kind of antidote that will work because of the hundreds and thousands of girls that are poised and waiting.