Senator’s stunt was loud statement on girls’ rights

Monday, March 13th, 2023 05:00 | By
Gloria Orwoba ejected from Senate after showing up with stained clothes, claiming she was 'on her period'
Nominated Senator Gloria Orwoba caputured outside Parliament precincts with stained white suit pants. PHOTO/Facebook

Senator Gloria Orwoba raised a very pertinent conversation on February 14 when she walked into the Senate donning a beautiful white pantsuit, only that her trousers had period-like stains.

It would be naive to run away from the bold statement on menstrual stigma she was making.

She took most of us back to our primary school days when girls would be shamed because of periods. Her action, and the reaction from fellow legislators and the public, was a stark reminder that in those very schools, not much has changed.

Thanks to Senator Orwoba, who grew up in Nairobi, for helping us understand that this is actually not a rural problem but nationwide problem.

Period stigma is as critical an issue as other gender equity issues.

Last week was International Women’s Day and the buzz phrase was more inclusive and more equitable digital future.

The media, both legacy and digital, was awash with conversations about women, women rights, gender norms and for most elite organisations sophisticated conversations around women in tech, women in leadership and innovation and technological advancement.

All these are great for our women, but I guess, the society that we live in calls for situating all these to the ordinary plights of the Kenyan woman and Senator Orwoba raised one of the most pertinent.

We simply need to create safe spaces for the girl child and enculture the boy child to understand, respect and know how to treat girls and women.

Not that there is a problem with conversations that have consequential policy pathways. No. But how soon did we depart from Senator Orwoba’s noble statement that has a profound effect on nurturing a generation of boys and girls who will grow up without the hang ups of menstrual period stigma?

Girls should not suffer the indignity of being ridiculed because of menstruation, something they have absolutely no control of.

Through responsible and responsive legislation, we can wipe out period stigma.

It is the surest way to sow the seeds of gender equity in our context. How do you expect that a girl growing up in my home ward of Kakrao in Suna East to have equitable opportunities and grow up with the mentality of equity if for a number of days in a month she misses school and suffers the shame of period stigma?

Well, some of these girls will not be on the table discussing women in tech or women in leadership unless we start addressing the plight of the girl child along gender norms at an early age.

These conversations should not just end with provision of safe spaces for the girl child, but also continue with concerted efforts to train the boy child on the issues that affect the girls equitable access to all the opportunities.

It is one thing to address the girl child, but to turn a blind eye to the boy child is the elephant in the room. You see, where women lack equitable opportunities, there are men. Where women are looked at from biased gender norms, there are men who have grown up with these biased norms.

Well, the journey to address the plight of women in whatever spaces and to afford them equal opportunities starts with helping  young boys and girls unlearn the toxic norms such as period shaming while inculcating a culture that will normalise respect for the girl child.

Senator Orwoba stunt was a solid advocacy statement and be situated within the bigger picture. The digital media, which has a huge following among the young, probably missed the point and so did the media.

She has a bill and conversations should focus on the bill and substantive solutions to gender biased norms that the bill seeks to address.

As they say nothing about women without women is for women – the conversations should be with and by women who experience biased norms at an early age and in marginalised and less talked about areas.

—Hansen Owilla is a PhD candidate in political communication

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