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Letter From Africa: Of Nelson Mandela, South Sudan, Anti Homosexuality Law In Uganda And More!

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By Ronald Ssekandi:

These past days, a myriad of events have happened and I just couldn’t get my mind focusing on one particular issue to write about. I felt that choosing one thing over the other would probably be undermining another issue. I have therefore decided to do a wrap up of the many issues that have taken place in the last few days.

Uganda

Nelson Madiba Mandela was finally laid to rest in his ancestral home of Qunu. He was a hero celebrated not just in Africa but the entire world. A post apartheid figure revered for his resilience during the rough times in South Africa. Having served a jail sentence of 27 years and served as the first black president of South Africa, Mandela’s contribution to his people’s liberation was enormous and exemplary. The various leaders in attendance at his funeral bore witness to this. The fact that the whole world stood to mourn him bore witness to his global fame.

However, as all the glory and praises for Mandela were going on, some sections of the public started raising issues about this great leader. There was talk about his private life and his involvement with various women, key of who were Evelyn Mase (1944-1958), Winnie Mandela (1958-1996) and Graca Machel (1998-2013). The talks got so far as to characterize Mandela as a promiscuous man who could not maintain steady relationships. Needless to say that for moralists, this was a chance to pierce a few holes in this cult worshiped leader.

On the African continent, there was also a queer discussion analyzing whether Mandela was a true African hero or just a proponent of the West; a mere colonial legacy creation meant to draw the world away from the reality of the plight of South Africans. It is the general understanding of so many people around the world that with the ascent of the hero Mandela, the ruthless apartheid policy in South Africa came to an end and that black people equally enjoy the same rights as the white people in South Africa. However, talking closely to those in the country, it is evident that white supremacy is still a very common trend in the country and thousands of black people are still holed up in strings of oppression curved during the apartheid days. Mandela, who began with an armed resistance, later adjusted to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the country and it was at this point that these people believe he slipped his way into the beds of the oppressors.

Now, as the sun sets over Mandela, the question is whether South Africa will truly heal from the scars of the apartheid regime? The test of this will be the ability of all races to co-exist in South Africa without any form of prejudices. We should be able to see economic and social reforms that will ensure equal opportunities for all in the country. Until then, we cannot clearly state that we are past the dark days.

In other news, the International Criminal Court prosecutor announced to the court that they did not have “enough” evidence to prosecute Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta for crimes committed during the post election violence in Kenya. This was after the key prosecution witness pulled out. This was not a big shock to many considering the recent development in the prosecution of these Kenyan leaders. Earlier on, the African Presidents had organised themselves and voiced threats to pull out of the ICC citing it as a biased legal system targeting only the African leaders. Uhuru Kenyatta was able to gain enough political capital to bargain his way out of the ICC dark cloud which has been looming over his Presidency. In the East African community, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda gave up his turn at chairmanship of the regional East African Community block to Uhuru Kenyatta in a move that was cited by many as intending to cushion the Kenyan leader by increasing his political influence. Of course, the ICC was not only going to be prosecuting a seating Kenyan president but also the leader of arguably the fastest growing regional integration in Africa.

Meanwhile in the neighboring country of South Sudan, war broke out in the capital Juba in what many termed as an attempted coup to oust President Salva Kiir in the world’s youngest state. South Sudan is a largely multi-ethnic state and it has, over the years, been locked in ethnic conflicts. The sitting president comes from the Dinka tribe which is arguably the most dominant in the country. Earlier this year, Salva Kiir sacked his Vice President Riek Machar who comes for the Nuer tribe; another relatively dominant ethnic group. The many political analysts predicted a possible political impasse in the country arising out of this move and true to their fears, this week we came to see the break out of a war that has quickly taken on an ethnic description. President Salva Kiir came out clad in military fatigue and announced that it was an attempted coup led by his opponent Riek Machar. The latter rubbished the claims although he ran into hiding claiming that his life was at stake.

The conflict spread from the capital Juba out to especially the oil rich Junglei state which, earlier this week, was pronounced to have one of its cities in the hands of the rebels. The international community has rushed in with USA and Uganda sending in troops to help calm the conflict. Uganda and the USA are especially fearful because the destabilization of South Sudan could mean the re-emergence of ICC wanted Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony who has on many occasions benefited from the instability in South Sudan. Gladly, we have received news that President Salva Kiir is ready to hold talks with his opponents and hopefully this should bring an end to the current bloodbath in the young democracy.

Finally in Uganda, our parliament has passed two Bills; the famous Anti-Homosexuality Bill and the Anti-Pornography Bill that is largely known as the “mini-skirt” Bill. These two laws have been dubbed by our parliamentarians as “gifts” to Ugandans this Christmas season. The controversy surrounding these Bills cannot be justifiably dealt with in the closing paragraph of this article. We shall pick it up from here in the coming days.

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  1. Anil VIshnu G K

    Very nice round-up. Thanks a lot Ronald !!!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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