Tag Archives: sex

What you ought to know about the unspoken shame of childbirth

18 Feb

fistula

By the time you go to bed tonight, more than 800 women will have died from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications around the world, the vast majority of these being African women. For every one of these women that dies 20 more will be injured or disabled, with the most common injury being obstetric fistula.

As an African woman I must admit to being a little disturbed at having only become aware of this epidemic in the last couple of years. Why has it been so neglected despite the devastating impact it has on the lives of affected girls and women?

This article is a graphic read but we don’t apologise for it. It’s time we brought the more than 2 million African girls and women living with obstetric fistula out of the shadows.

What exactly is obstetric fistula?

It’s an injury that usually occurs when a woman is in prolonged labour without access to  timely medical intervention. Over the course of three to five days of labor, the unborn baby presses against the mother’s pelvic  bone, cutting off blood flow to the surrounding tissues and  causing the tissues to disintegrate and rot away. A hole  – or fistula – develops either between the vagina and the bladder or the vagina and rectum causing an uncontrollable constant leaking of urine, faeces and blood.

obstetric-fistula

That’s the scientific explanation!

The reality on the ground is that in most cases the baby is stillborn or dies within the first week of birth and the women are left facing lifelong incontinence that will lead to their being shunned by their communities, abandoned by their husbands and families and completely isolated socially and economically. In some communities these girls and women are physically moved to the edges of their villages and towns, often to live in isolation where they  die from starvation or an infection in the birth canal. The unavoidable odor is viewed as offensive, thus their removal from society is seen as essential.

The acid in the urine, faeces, and blood often causes severe burn wounds on the legs from the continuous dripping, resulting  in nerve damage that can cause the women to struggle with walking and eventually lose mobility. In an attempt to avoid the dripping, many women limit their intake of water and liquid which can ultimately lead to dangerous cases of dehydration. Ulceration and infections can persist as well as other medical complications which can lead to death. Because only a quarter of women who suffer a fistula in their first birth are able to have a living baby, affected woman have little chance of conceiving a healthy baby later on.

Who’s likely to get it?

Whilst all women of reproductive age are vulnerable to suffer fistula, it’s more prevalent in communites where child marriages and early childbirth occur since young mothers generally have under-developed pelvises. In fact, obstructed labor is responsible for 76% to 97% of obstetric fistulas.

A woman living in a culture where she has little ownership of her body and her status and self-esteem depend almost entirely on her marriage and ability to bear children is also at higher risk. Other risk factors include lack of access to contraceptives resulting in pregnancies that are too closely spaced and lack of access to quality maternal health care and emergency obstetric care such as caesarean sections.

Can it be treated?

Patients with uncomplicated fistulae can undergo a simple surgery to repair the hole in their bladder or rectum. The treatment cures up to 90% of obstetric fistula patients. However, many women remain unaware of the availability of treatment for their condition or the shame associated with the condition prevents them from seeking help. It’s estimated that 80% of women with fistulas never seek treatment. The medical costs of repair, between $150 and $450 US dollars, as well as significant transportation issues also prevent many women from receiving care. There are very few African hospitals with the resources and trained staff to perform fistula repair, and women frequently must travel far to reach treatment facilities.

9_fistula_surgery

What can I do?

Every one of us is in a position of influence within our communities. Do your research, find out more about obstetric fistula and other conditions affecting African women, and their causes. Share your knowledge. We’re often in a position to influence a decision on early marriage or share knowledge on contraceptives or health care within our extended circle of family and friends.

Remember, even if you impact the life of one woman, you’ve played your part in keeping the chain of change moving. But by the grace of God, these two million African women living with fistula injuries could be you or I!

_______________________________

Photo credits: World Health Organisation

Whose virginity is it anyway?

26 Oct

image
By Nyasha Gloria Sengayi

So I was having drinks with a hopeful who had so much potential of winning the heart of this stubborn woman. In my head, as I laughed with this guy, thoughts were reeling to a point where I even convinced myself that he was the funniest, most intelligent, most handsome, sweetest man left on earth… but that was until he asked me a question that led to the writing of this article.

All of a sudden, the guy decided to take our conversation from discussing the weather and other small talk issues to another level and asked me a question.

“So Nyasha tell me, are you still a virgin?” asked the Moron of the Century. I asked him to repeat himself.

I’d like to believe that I pick my men well but this guy became a failed project the moment he asked me that question. I was pissed off but maintained my cool and continued to eat my salad and drink my lemon water, both of which I decided to pay for the minute I was asked that question. I remained silent.

“Did I touch a raw nerve?” – another misplaced question

“No, I don’t have raw nerves, mine are just critical,” I responded.

“I’m afraid I don’t get you,” he replied.

Unfortunately, all men who go out there virginity hunting and testing don’t get it as all they want is to be the Nobel Laureate on the Commission of Virginity Breaking! I don’t know why these men give a fuss about our virginity more than we women do; I’ve heard this question from many men and I really find it offensive for a guy to have the nerve to interrogate my virginity status without even getting to know who I really am.

So all the time we are talking, he is thinking about sex? Is that the value he has placed on me? Why is it that every man wants to scramble for a piece of my hymen (or rather every hymen)? It seems like a ploy to keep women in the pit of ransom.

For a while, I was the judgemental girlfriend who had no idea why my friends were ‘giving up’ their hymens (as if there’s a cost attached to them). In this regard, I was perhaps no different to the men I now encounter. But my thinking has since matured.

The idea of breaking

In an expression of untamed egos, the language used when men sleep with a virgin expresses a disturbing power dynamic. Men speak of ‘breaking’, ‘ripping’, ‘tearing’, (wakamuboora here, ndakabvarura), and use a whole lot of other crude terminology. As a general principle, things that we break are fragile and powerless, so what these men, in effect, are saying is that our hymens are exactly that – powerless and fragile! Ladies, are we really that fragile?

You will rarely hear a woman saying, “I threw away my virginity”; we give it and entrust it to someone (in different circumstances where there’s consent). And that’s what women always seem to do; we always give a part of ourselves, no matter how much it costs us. For me, therefore, every man who asks about my virginity first before getting to know my surname has one aim: to break and disempower me.

Mapping my hymen

Having been born with my hymen hidden somewhere in the territory of my vagina, I’ve always wondered why it was placed there. Its location presents so many questions to me as a young woman; questions like, “Why is my vagina there?” and “Who has a claim to it?”

I think about it a lot, particularly about its safety down there. For most of us, the vagina is the last part of the body that we want to interact with outside of sexual pleasure; most of us have never gone down on a mirror just to check out what’s popping ‘down there’! For that reason I’ve heard many stories about women who have no idea how their vagina looks; who have, after a stint with an STI or irregular discharge, been forced – only then – to inspect themselves. At that point, however, they are not so sure if that is really how their vagina ought to look.

For other women, it’s their husbands or sexual partners who get the first sight of that part of their body; reflecting on all of this, my question would be: How do you trust someone to ‘break’ the hymen located in a space you are not familiar with yourself?

As for me, I can map my vagina in my sleep! It is who I am, the root of my identity, the heartbeat of my passion, the pulse of the feminism I have nurtured in my life, it is me. So I’m fully aware – and in total control – of everything that goes on ‘down there’. My friend laughed at me the other day when I went on a Google search to find out how a vagina should be properly cleaned and taken care of. But for me, it is of paramount importance that I know the ‘ins and outs’ – literally and figuratively – of this precious part of my body.

It is from this perspective that I then wonder why men think the easiest thing any woman can do is to simply open her legs for them so that they can enjoy breaking her hymen, without the slightest bit of understanding that the vagina – with or without the hymen – is a complex organ whose functions remain the same.

If the hymen is no longer there, is there a difference between a virgin and a non-virgin? Where is the difference? Why and how does the experience of sleeping with a virgin elevate a man, if at all? Where is the benefit?

Transactional identity

When will our men understand that not everything about women is sexually transactional? We are not a commodity and shouldn’t be treated as such. It’s just a hymen; seriously, I don’t see which part of life you will miss if you don’t have an experience with one. That just boils down to misplaced egos.

While I value my hymen, I don’t see it giving me much after I lose it. It won’t even guarantee me marital happiness. How many women who’ve gotten married as virgins have gone on to get divorced? Let’s be very realistic; how many have been infected with HIV in the comfort of their homes thinking they were safe with the one man who ‘broke’ their virginity? And also, how many women who got married as virgins have had extra marital affairs?

What really are we looking for – virginity or character? Personally, I think the vagina, and not your hymen, gives you your identity; any attempt to lay a claim on my hymen ignores who it belongs to.

It’s my hymen!

I just want to let the men know that keeping your virginity does not always mean you are keeping it for them. That is a misconception based on what men think they are owed. In case they didn’t know, some of us relate to our vagina outside of pleasing men sexually.

Growing up, advice given to us by our parents and other relatives told us to preserve ourselves and our hymens for our husbands. While this is a valuable practice, the truth is that that little piece of meat is mine! Even my parents don’t own it! If it belonged to my husband, then why didn’t God just place it on him?!

My hymen is on my body for a reason. I should decide how it goes and to who. Placing emphasis on the hymen as something we owe to our men displaces our power of choice. I am not saying women should sleep around, but I am saying that if I’m going to keep this hymen intact, that’s purely for my benefit.

The man I will give it to should never be mistaken in thinking that I have preserved myself for him. For me, it’s not like that. I don’t appreciate the whole world checking my virginity status for the sake of massaging their egos; that culture should end this minute! Surely it’s more beneficial to get HIV and STI tests done than to monitor a woman’s virginal state.

What all this drama has done is open new business opportunities for people who are now inventing virginity soaps and other products. Who ever thought that the hymen could be manufactured? And the pity and double standard of it all is that women hardly check men’s virginity status; in fact, we’d be scared to come across a male virgin.

So just before I left the table and paid for my meal (I had to argue to pay for myself and thank God, I had ordered a salad!) I responded and said:

“If your father had checked your mother’s virginity status, you probably wouldn’t be here today. Can you please confirm that for me!”

And with that, I walked off, not looking back.

Mapping my vagina helped me appreciate a lot of things about myself as a woman. Throughout my research on my vagina I have learnt that the things that you draw intimacy from are the very things you know everything about. I find my vagina a very complex organ which is able to shape how my identity is defined out there. So in that regard, it should be respected and dignified whether you are getting some or not from it.

At this point I wish all men would have an appreciation of the heart of our reproductivity and how much respect should be awarded to it. How then do you break something you respect and love?

———–
Nyasha is a feminist working with a young women’s organisation in Harare. She takes an interest in exploring world issues affecting women globally and is working on opening space for visual documentation of research on the status of women in Zimbabwe. Currently, she is writing her first book.

*Article reproduced courtesy of http://www.herzimbabwe.co.zw

Stop the rape of our children – sign the petition!

21 Jul

Nigeria
On Tuesday 16 July 2013, the Nigerian Federal Senate approved the marriage of under-aged children in the country. We at Every African Women are outraged that once again girls’ rights are being openly violated under the guise of culture and religion.

The new law sets aside the constitutional requirement that a child must be at least 18 years old to enter into an agreement of marriage. Supporters of the under-age law include Senator Yerima Ahmad Sani who himself recently married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl. In justifying his actions he stated that the constitutional stipulation of a minimum age was at variance with Islamic law. How convenient then that the Senate’s actions have now legalised his actions!

Sign our petition to the Nigerian National Assembly demanding that they stop the legalisation of child marriage. Pass it on to everyone you know, man or woman, and stop the legal rape of our children and little sisters!

SIGN THE PETITION NOW

Are all African men promiscuous?

25 Apr

promiscuous

By Bekithemba Mhlanga

 

Way before Tiger Woods and the golf club incident; he was referred to by some female sections as the whitest black man on earth. Fast-forward a few years and the slight came – what could you expect, the black African genes in him had to come to the fore. He simply could not stop his eye wandering and keep his pants zipped, it’s in the genes!

The promiscuous African male has been an urban legend for years. Nothing stirs gender wars more fervently than the question of who is more promiscuous male or female. One then adds fuel to the fire by throwing race into the equation – and dares suggest that most African males are promiscuous. The assumption being that they are more promiscuous than their Caucasian, Arabic or Oriental counterparts.

This assumption is a toxic as suggesting that all Muslims are terrorists just because some terrorists happen to be Muslim!

The fact is no one knows if African males are more promiscuous than males in other parts of the world. The evidence put forward can at best be said to be circumstantial mainly on the basis of the research from HIV / AIDS infection rates in Africa. Take for instance the UN report entitled ‘Women and HIV / Aids – Confronting the Crisis’ which noted that almost universally in Africa, cultural expectations have encouraged men to have multiple partners while women are expected to abstain or be faithful. How valid this is in a continent with over 2000 tribal traditions, and many varieties of Christian and Islamic communities, is open to debate.

To test the validity of this assumption, I did a little research and asked African males whether they are more promiscuous than other people. The biggest reaction was that it’s not a question of promiscuity of African males just that they are serial polygamists while white males are serial monogamists. The argument being that both have a natural tendency to mate with as many females as possible just that African men want to have them all at once. The question is why?

There’s a huge difference between explaining behaviour and excusing it. Explaining it assumes a logical reason for going down a certain path while the latter seeking to atone for the behaviour pattern. My own observation is that in the ‘explaining’ class are cultural, biological and economic factors. In the ‘excuse’ corner are what I’ve classed as the ‘because I can’, ‘lack of sexual satisfaction from one partner’, and ‘peer pressure’ factors. Whilst African males cannot be said to have a monopoly of these factors – I’ve only looked at them from the African male perspective for the purpose of this column.

The unmarried African males I spoke to argued that their promiscuity is to be expected since single people tend to have more sexual partners than married ones (at least that’s the way it’s supposed to be). They point out there is no cultural obligation to have one partner, in fact quite the opposite. For this group it would appear then that promiscuity is some sort of entitlement and a rite of passage. It’s part of our rich African culture – whatever that means.

Controversy emerged when I moved on to the married African male. Surely if it’s a question of having sex on tap then the married African male should not be promiscuous. But then the cultural shield is held up again. It’s always been accepted that the African male can take on more than one wife or have a mistress as all this is for the good of the family. How this is so, I have no idea. Surprisingly, none of my interviewees quoted the bible or the Koran to go forth and multiply.

It’s the biological explanation that seems to be the bastion of the promiscuous male though. One chap put it to me that it’s simply a fact that males tend to think about sex more often than females. And there’s no shortage of statistics to back this up. I was pointed to one research paper that suggested males think of sex six times in an hour while women do so four times in an hour. Admittedly the research said nothing about whether this was with one partner or multiple partners

We all know Africa is a super patriarchal society and the effects of this patriarchy are manifested in the economic power imbalance between males and females. An unintended consequence of this is that African women are vulnerable to wily African males who exploit this for their own benefit. In fact some see this as passport to go out and sow their wild oats with total abandon. I recall a discussion with a colleague who kept a harem of women in Soweto South Africa. On quizzing him about how he got his way with so many women – his response was that Soweto girls are easy – quarter chicken and chips from KFC does the trick. The pattern repeats itself regardless of economic status – for the chap on low income it may be the KFC meal, for the middle income it’s that dress and hairdo and for the super-rich it’s the car and the house.

What of the second category – the ‘excuse’ class? It was clear from my research that there’re some African males who generally believe they can be promiscuous – whether married or not – just because they can. For this group, if they can mate with as many partners as they can they will and they don’t need to explain it. A second factor with this group is the argument that at some point the fun and action fades with the one partner, to them variety is the spice of life. This herd tends to hunt for the opposite sex of similar minds. There is a residue of the promiscuous African male who find themselves in this group simply because their friends are doing it. Whether this is a manifestation of some dormant promiscuity driver is for the concerned to explain.

To ask whether there’s anything that African females can do to change this behaviour is tantamount to asking them to solve a problem they did not create – unfair and pointless. The onus is on the males themselves. It’s up to the guilty males to realise that being monogamous, whether serial or otherwise – is not being a mug. It’s about valuing your self-worth, upholding morals and values that are not only good for the individual but also show respect for your partner. It’s about setting an example to your children and shaping how your daughters will be treated tomorrow.

Many will say, it is easier said than done. Granted! But the truth of the matter is the greater majority of African males are faithful and it’s the minority few who give the rest of us a bad name. This is exactly what the bell shaped curve reveals – that we all live in mediokristan – not in the extrimistan world of the promiscuous African male.

On mothers, boyfriends, toddlers and sex

10 Feb

toddlers 2The naked woman straddles the man whose bare legs are stretched out lazily in front of him. She’s lost in the moment as she works hard to extract what little pleasure she can from his small, limp penis.

A small, face appears behind her, a boy, perhaps two and a half, not quite three years old. He watches this scene for a second then calls out “mama”, no response. Maybe they didn’t hear so he tries louder “mama’, again no response, his mother’s attention is elsewhere. The little boy, looking trapped, raises his left arm and pulls at his ear in discomfort. Too young to understand exactly what’s going on he intuitively feels he shouldn’t be seeing this.

Speaking in Ndebele, the man says, “Sengiphos’ukuqeda” [I’m about to finish].

She stops briefly and asks “Uthi kunjani?” [What did you say?].

Ngithi kanti wena awuqedi? Sengiphosa ukuqeda” [I said are you not ready to finish? I’m about to finish], he repeats.

A few seconds later, the man puts his hand on her hip and the woman gets off his lap. “Mhh, angiqedanga mina” [Mhh, I didn’t finish] she says in disappointment.

“Uzabuya usuqeda” [You’ll finish later] he reassures her. She walks off the screen and the video ends.

Except the story doesn’t end there! Someone posts the video on the internet and so begins a global hunt to “name and shame” the woman.

She’s since been identified as a 24 year old Zimbabwean who lives in South Africa. She recently issued a statement to say the man in the video is the father of her son and the video must have been leaked by mobile phone repair workers when she took her phone for repairs.

An extract of her statement reads:

“The man who shot the video is my only lover and is father to my son. I was not coerced into making this video, we did it for fun. In fact, my boyfriend took the video using my cell phone. Soon after he gave it back to me and how it went viral is my sole responsibility. However, I remember at some stage I had problems with the cell phone and then took it to a cell phone repair shop. I believe it is where the video was stolen and then circulated.”

About her  son watching she says:

“I really don’t know why on earth I did not stop. I regret everything. Its now like I don’t love my son, I love him so much, nothing on earth surpasses my love for him.”

“I am now even scared going back to Zimbabwe. How am I gonna face my grandmother in Mzilikazi? I am being insulted and abused every day by strangers on my phone. There is no single day that passes without any abuse. I accept I made a terrible mistake but I want to assure all those who are concerned that such a thing won’t happen again.”

She goes on to say that the video has led to the father of her son resigning from work.

“He had taken me to his work place, unfortunately some people had seen the video and managed to identify me. It was so devastating, so my boyfriend had to resign from work because of that. Now you can see how we have suffered because of this. We are being tormented every day and night.”

This incident raises issues on so many levels, about parental responsibility, child abuse, African culture’s attitude towards women having sex, privacy and issues around bad sex and whether women should speak up when their needs are not met. Do you feel it matters whether the man is her only lover or the father of her child?, what about the man, why was there no campaign to name and shame him? Is it ever a good idea to let anyone make a sex tape of you?

This one’s up for general discussion.Tell us your thoughts!