“For Generations, We Have Been Nominating Men Just Because They are Men”

Ms. Marlene Schiappa. Credit: UN Women/Antoine Tardy

By External Source
Jan 21 2020 – Marlène Schiappa, Minister of State for Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination in France, attended the 25th year Regional Review Meeting of the Beijing Platform for Action for the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Region last month. She highlighted why this meeting is key for advancing the gender equality agenda and the priorities for the Generation Equality Forum in 2020, a global gathering for gender equality, convened by UN Women and co-chaired by France and Mexico.

Why is the Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting important for advancing the gender equality agenda?

We are here in Geneva in order to dedicate some time to working together, which is essential. France is pleased and proud to host the Generation Equality Forum in July 2020, which will mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action. This will be an opportunity for us to strengthen the commitments that were made at the time [in 1995], but also to make new commitments with concrete gender equality goals through coalitions of states.

For this meeting, what is your message to the governments and decision-makers here and also to the civil society activists, specifically the youth?

I would urge governments to engage in the Generation Equality Forum under the aegis of UN Women, because no country in the world has succeeded in achieving gender equality in all areas, whether it may be equal pay, gender-based violence, sharing of domestic tasks, or combating female genital mutilation and forced marriages.

You’re co-chairing the Generation Equality Forum in July 2020. What are your expectations for this forum, what would you like to achieve?

No country can achieve gender equality on its own, which is why I believe deeply in a collective commitment to women’s rights in the form of multilateralism, which is the rationale of the feminist diplomacy led by France. I would urge all countries to engage in the coalitions of states of the Generation Equality Forum and also to engage in the Biarritz Partnership launched by President Emmanuel Macron as part of the French presidency of the G7.

It is a partnership that aims to review the best gender equality laws in the world. We propose that states commit to implementing Appendix 1, which calls for an innovative new law for gender equality in each country. France has made this commitment and we will, therefore, work to promote the economic empowerment of women.

In your opinion, what are the gender equality and women’s rights priorities for this region, and in the broader sense for Generation Equality?

First of all, I would say that the right to control one’s body is a right that must be reaffirmed. The issue of sexual and reproductive rights seems to me to be paramount. I think it’s very complicated for a woman to be able to live her life freely if she doesn’t have control over her own body.

Secondly, the fight against gender-based and sexual violence is the priority of the President’s five-year term. Similarly, I think it is difficult to fight for equal pay if women fear physical harm in the street, when they travel, and even when they go home.

Women are victims of domestic violence and are beaten or demeaned by the person with whom they live. It is very difficult in these cases for women to have the necessary mindsets to develop their careers.

Therefore, this seems to me to be a top priority of the feminist struggle to fight for the integrity of women’s bodies against sexual violence. And then I think it’s important to fight for women’s economic empowerment, and for their ability to start businesses all over the world.

We call on all states to ratify and implement the provisions of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence [also known as the Istanbul Convention] and its mechanisms to protect women, but also to enable women to become tomorrow’s leaders and to create and manage companies, in particular through quotas, which is a proven system in France.

I know that we are sometimes told that women are not going to be nominated just because they are women. For generations, we have been nominating men just because they are men.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has calculated that if we do not have a coercive policy, we will achieve gender equality in the year 2234. With UN Women’s support, we have the ambition to ensure that by 2020, we create the first generation that understands the importance of equality between women and men all over the world.

Courtesy UN Women

Ending Bullying and Humiliation over Menstruation as Girls and Boys in Conservative Eswatini are Educated about Reproductive Health

Nomcebo Mkhaliphi posing with girls from the Kwaluseni Infantry Primary School in Eswatini. Courtesy: Nomcebo Mkhaliphi

By Mantoe Phakathi
MBABANE , Jan 21 2020 – When 14-year-old Nomcebo Mkhaliphi first noticed the blood discharged from her vagina, she was shocked. Confused, she turned to her older sisters for advice.

“My sisters told me that they were experiencing the same every month and that they used fabric, toilet paper and newspapers as sanitary wear,” recalls the now 45-year-old Mkhaliphi. She had to follow suit and use these materials because she had no money to buy sanitary pads.

Mkhaliphi and her four siblings were single-handedly raised by their father in a poor household in rural Makhonza, south of Eswatini. Mkhaliphi’s parents had separated when she was nine, so conversations about menstruation were never had, both at home and school. 

Recounting her experience with periods invokes sad emotions for Mkhaliphi. She had three significant moments at school where her periods put her at the centre of gossip, bullying and humiliation.

At some point, she stained her tunic, followed by other incidents where a toilet paper and a newspaper she wore in the place of a sanitary pad fell to the ground after getting soaked, right in front of other learners.

“These incidents lowered my self-esteem because other students used my experience to bully me,” says the mother of two boys and a girl.

Instead of dropping out of school like other girls in a similar situation, Mkhaliphi persevered until she completed her high school education. Today, she volunteers her time to teach young girls and boys at schools and communities about menstruation, particularly the stigma associated with periods. She includes boys so that they stop seeing periods as a laughing matter but a natural occurrence for their female peers.

“There’s a lot of stigma associated with menstruation. When a woman is on her periods, she is said to be in ‘cleansing’ something that portrays her as dirty. That’s why in other families a menstruating woman is not allowed to cook, while in some churches they’re not allowed to come closer to the pastor,” Mkhaliphi tells IPS, adding that some churches order women to sit at the back and not participate in the service.

What’s worse, it’s taboo to talk about menstruation because in the Swati culture it has always been portrayed as a secret. This small landlocked southern African nation is the continent’s last monarchy, with a population of just under 1.4 million.

Through her talks, Mkhaliphi is using her story to end the stigma associated with periods and building confidence among girls by giving them the right information about their sexual reproductive health. She also gives talks to primary school children because, she says, it is important to talk to them while they are young.

“Girls open up to me about their own sad stories once they hear about my experience,” she says.

One such girl is Nomthandazo* (14) from a public school in Eswatini’s industrial town, Matsapha, who said she used to abscond from school when on her period because one day the newspaper she was wearing fell off and she was became the target for ridicule at school for a long time.

With no money to buy pads, she pretended to be going to school and would hide from her parents for about a week until her period was over.

“I now use rags. They take long to dry but they’re better than newspapers,” she tells IPS.

Some parents fail to have a conversation with their children about periods. For instance, Temphilo* from rural Sihhoye told her stepmother as soon as she saw blood, thinking that there was something wrong with her. Indeed, there was, according to her stepmother, who beat her up and accused her of having sex.

“I bled for almost a month and she didn’t even take me to hospital because she felt I brought it on myself,” Temphilo tells IPS. After that first irregular period, her periods followed the regular course of lasting 4 to 5 days.

But it took Mkhaliphi to assure her that menstruation is a natural thing that occurs to every woman and she should not be ashamed of herself because of it. So far, Mkhaliphi has reached over 3,000 girls since she started this initiative after she was retrenched from her work as a legal secretary in 2016.

“I get invited to many places where teachers and community leaders ask me to speak to learners and the youth in communities,” she says. “But it’s difficult to reach out to everyone because of lack of financial resources.”

Mkhaliphi has taken the conversation to Twitter, @nomcebo_mkhali where she now raises awareness. Twitter has exposed her to individual donors who contribute pads and a bit of money to support the girls. Given the number of places to visit and girls from poor backgrounds, she needs more assistance.

“It’s sad that most girls are still using unsafe materials which are not only inadequate for protection but can also lead to diseases,” she says.

The 2017 Eswatini Annual Education Census recorded that 220 girls absconded from school at primary level although the education was free. Reasons were not given for the dropouts but Mkhaliphi says it could partly be lack of sanitary wear.   

“Building the girl’s confidence is not good enough if they won’t have access to the things that will preserve their dignity when they’re menstruating,” says Mkhaliphi.

Chairperson of the Ministry of Health Portfolio Committee in the House of Assembly, Mduduzi Dlamini, concurs with Mkhaliphi.

“It doesn’t make sense that sanitary wear is not provided for free both at school and at community centres,” says Dlamini.

A participant at the recent 25th International Conference on Population Development (ICPD25) in Nairobi, Kenya, he promised that the provision of free sanitary wear to girls was one of the issues that he would push for discussion in parliament.

“What I learnt from the conference is that when girls lack toiletries, like pads, they become vulnerable to sugar daddies who buy them these things,” Dlamini tells IPS. “Some girls end up getting infected with HIV by sugar daddies all because they didn’t have access to pads. Government needs to address this issue.”   

According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) “women are disproportionally affected by HIV” in Eswatini – 120,000 of the 190,000 adults living with HIV are women. In addition, “new HIV infections among young women aged 15–24 years were more than quadruple those among young men: 2400 new infections among young women, compared to fewer than 500 among young men”.

So far, Kenya and Botswana are the only African governments on track to offer free sanitary wear by law. 

*Names withheld to protect their identity.

School Lunch Programmes for Progress

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Wan Manan Muda
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 21 2020 - If well planned, coordinated and implemented, a government funded school feeding programme for all primary school children can be progressively [...] Read more »