Laurie and Debbie say:
Carolyn Kimeu’s article in The Guardian, “Kenyan senator targeted by online threats after period poverty protest,” tells a story we might like to make out as a third-world cautionary tale. Senator Gloria Orwoba came to a Kenyan senate meeting wearing white pants with a fake menstrual stain very clearly visible at the crotch. After about half the meeting, she was asked to leave, and she has been “targeted by severe cyberbullying and threats of sexual violence” since that time.
Kenya has, of course, its own specific issues regarding menstruation. Menstrual products are not taxed, but they are too expensive for “more than half” of the women and girls in the country, and a 2017 law to make them free has been thwarted by insufficient budgets and corruption.
In 2019, a 14-year-old girl killed herself after a teacher reportedly shamed her when she stained her uniform on her first period. Stigma pushes many girls to skip school when menstruating.
So Senator Orwoba’s action is extremely relevant to her constituents.
Despite the Kenyan specifics, this is a global issue. It’s hard to imagine any country where a woman lawmaker could show up dressed like Senator Orwoba and not face severe consequences. Menstruation may be somewhat more acceptable to talk about than it used to be (at least in the U.S. and Europe). In the United States, the country we know best, showing it is completely out of the question. Women are both blamed and shamed a visible drop of blood shows anywhere around their crotch. In a country where some states forbid women legislators from wearing short sleeves, it’s far too easy to imagine what would happen to women intentionally wearing stained pants. Cyberbullying and online threats would be inevitable. Similar reactions are predictable in most of the world.
We salute Senator Orwoba for both her creativity and her courage. The article says she didn’t expect this incident to reach beyond the senate, but we hazard a guess that she knew exactly what she was doing, and how far it would travel (even if she underestimated the viciousness of the online response).
Menstrual products should not only be tax-free in the United States (a case where we are less enlightened than Kenya), and free to every woman and girl in the world who needs them. As activists who have devoted a great deal of work to making the invisible visible, we applaud the senator for such a stunningly visual action. We stand by her as she …
stands by her stunt, saying that to bring change, “it is important to dare to be shameless”. But being on the frontline of the backlash, she said, showed her that there is a lot more to be done to eradicate stigma.
“The biggest impact is that we got men talking about periods – and that breaks cultural barriers to some level,” she said. “Period shaming starts with the man and the boy, because they have been brought up to believe that if a woman happens to have a stain, it’s an appropriate response to laugh at, or castigate her – and then the woman has been taught that they need to go into hiding. That’s the unlearning that we need to do.”
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