In Kenya, a Senator's period stain rattles the House, and other stories
#WomenLead (Issue 134): Your weekly round-up on women in politics
Hello, and welcome to Issue 134!
In this edition, we bring you updates from Germany and Scotland, while the spotlight is on Kenya. In case you missed last week’s edition, you can read it here.
🚨VIGILANCE AGAINST VIGILANTES: Lisa Paus, Germany’s family minister, has said that the government is considering bringing in a law to stop anti-abortion activists from blocking abortion facilities in the country, DW reported. Anti-abortion activists are gearing up for a 40-day protest in front of medical and counselling centres.
Germany’s abortion laws are slightly complex - while abortion is illegal, the country does not penalise or punish women and doctors when the pregnancy poses a risk to health, if it is the result of sexual violence, and upto 12 weeks of pregnancy if the person seeking the abortion has undergone mandatory counselling. However, there are legal gaps that limit access and the current government has been working to decriminalise abortion.
"Women must have unhindered access to counselling services and facilities that perform abortions," Paus said, describing these "vigil" protests as "violations and unacceptable attacks on women's extremely personal decision”.
🥀 #NOTTHECOST: In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation has opened up the conversation around the misogynistic and toxic hate generated at women politicians. Several Scottish politicians have opened up about the toll such trolling takes on their well-being. Sturgeon has reportedly described the current political climate as “harsher and more hostile” than ever before, saying social media is “providing a vehicle for the most awful abuse of women, misogyny, sexism, threats of violence”, Daily Record reported, citing an upcoming BBC documentary.
On February 14, as Gloria Orwoba, a Senator from Kenya, walked into the national Parliament building to participate in the proceedings, she noticed that she had blood on her trousers. Orwoba, who was menstruating at the time, decided to not let the period stain deter her from doing her job.
"Since I am always advocating against period shame, I thought I should go ahead and walk the talk," she told the BBC.
Orwoba has been advocating for ending period poverty and is currently petitioning the Kenyan government to provide free period products in Kenyan schools and prisons. She has drafted the Sanitary Towels Provision Bill to push for such a reform.
If normalising menstruation was on Orwoba’s agenda, she was soon going to experience first-hand why that still remains a nasty battle to fight.
Orwoba’s colleagues were not happy with this “disrespectful” and “disgraceful” behaviour.
"We have wives and daughters, and they go through these cycles, but it's a matter to be managed personally without exposing it to other people. What Sen Gloria has done to this house is a disgrace, it is a lot of shame to this house. This must not be allowed to happen," Enoch Wambua, a male Senator, remarked.
But the conspicuous red blood on Orwoba’s white trousers didn’t make just her male colleagues uncomfortable.
Tabitha Mutinda, a female Senator, argued there were better ways to advocate for ending period stigma, and that walking in with blood on your pants was “not setting a good example to young women and girls”. (Are we “young” enough to respectfully disagree? #WeThinkWeAre)
She even questioned whether it was really a blood stain.
"You don't understand if she's on the normal woman cycle or she's faking it, and it is so indecent," Mutinda said.
The discomfort led the house Speaker to request Orwoba to leave and return after changing her clothes. Orwoba obliged and left but after stepping out, she decided to take the bull by its horns. Instead of giving in to the demands of the Senators, she instead spoke to the media, and then went to a school to distribute sanitary napkins.
Orwoba’s defiant act is a particularly powerful symbol in a country where period shaming led to the death of a teenager just a few years ago.
In 2019, a 14-year old girl had died by suicide after she was humiliated and shamed by her schoolteacher for having a period stain on her uniform. The girl did not have any sanitary product with her, and ended up staining her uniform with menstrual blood. Her teacher called her dirty and made her stand outside the class. Shaken by the episode, the girl hanged herself the same day after returning from school.
While Orwoba’s defiance has won her kudos from many quarters, the conversation has gotten pretty nasty and vile in others. Some users took to social media to criticise her, and went on to question her credentials as a leader. Some indulged in cyberbullying and even issued threats of sexual violence, prompting Orwoba to consider taking a break for social media “until temperatures come down”, The Guardian reported.
Reflections & Reads
The Inter-Parliamentary Union issued a statement saying more women were needed in decision-making in Nigeria. Read their statement here
‘Why I Run’: From the USA, Nida Allam, a County Commissioner from Durham reflects on her recent congressional campaign
“Peruvian women’s participation in contested politics remains active” via LSE Blogs
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