We Stood Up at the Right Moment
It was a freezing April morning in 2009, and it felt as if even the snow beneath our feet was trying to stop us. My sister and I had left our mother behind, shaking with worry. We, however, were calm as we walked to the protest site, risking our lives and our honor.
It was almost 9 am when we arrived at Khatam-un-Nabiyeen, the religious university in Kabul that was led by Sheikh Asif Mohsini, the controversial politician who created the law we were taking a stand against.
The law decreed a number of things—it said that women should fulfill their husbands’ sexual desires whenever their husbands wanted and that if a man rapes a girl he can compensate for his crime by giving money to the girl’s family.
Holding posters, we blocked the road as we started to move slowly toward Parliament. Suddenly from the other gate of the university a crowd of men and women came out to oppose us. This surprised and deeply pained me. It was painful enough that this law was created against women, but it was even worse to see that many of those who agreed with the law were women themselves.
The opponents started throwing stones at us. My sister was hit in the forehead, which hurt her so badly that we had to hide it from our father for many days. Seeing those wild men, I didn’t know what would happen to us if government forces didn’t come in time.
We did eventually get to Parliament, and our actions resulted in the repealing of the law. We stood up and got what we wanted. Today I am proud of myself and my friends for what we did for our mothers, sisters, daughters, and ourselves.
Rabia Salihi | Afghanistan
Feminine Festive Times
“Have you heard the ad on the radio?” my friend asked me. “A male voice advocating for the use of sanitary napkins! How drastically the psyches of Indian men have changed over the years! It is because of your efforts to spearhead a movement for the use of sanitary napkins across our country!”
Her praise took me back to the memories of an incident. I was returning from a UN Women conference in New York. On the plane I realized I was about to get my period. I was embarrassed but stood up to ask the air hostess for a sanitary pad. The men next to me asked me to sit back down. When I did, he asked me why I was standing. Eventually, I told him. He lectured me, telling me that women shouldn’t be allowed inside when they are menstruating. Instead, they should spend those three days in the backyard and in the woods near the villages.
I was appalled at his ignorance and told him that he was born in the very blood he loathes. “Are you shameless?” he said. “You are discussing such nasty things with unknown men?” I was moved with uncontrollable resentment. I stood up. Yes, I should stand up—for me and for the women. He jeered at me and changed his seat.
That incident prompted me to spearhead a movement across Indian society. I traveled all over the country, from village to village, to raise awareness of the difficulties women face while menstruating. When the village girls could not attend schools during those three days, I urged the government to provide free sanitary napkins to rural schoolgirls. I saw a change in the government’s outlook and the public’s perception.
To my delight, after many years, the radio ad cheered me up. Yes, my menstruation tells the world that I am a woman and I am a part of nature. I feel proud of being a woman.
Mahe Jabeen | India
Space to Stand
The bus is jam-packed at over double its capacity. People are leaning against each other and some are simply hanging onto the door handles. It is hard to figure out which legs belong to which head. It makes me think of cockroaches inside a little dirty chocolate packet left in a dustbin. The mixture of body odor, perfume, cigarette smoke, and vehicles is nauseating.
I am seated right above the engine, which is covered with thin foam to prevent female passengers from getting burned. My Kameez is wet, clinging to my sweaty back.
As we wait in a traffic jam, a lady wearing a black veil tries to get in the bus. The conductor has refused and begins to argue with her. Amidst people’s chattering, nonstop horns, music from the nearby CD shop, and the sporadic noise of construction work, the conductor’s shouting is only adding to the sound pollution.
One man curtly shouts, “Ladies are foolish and always make trouble. Now we do not even have any places to stand!” In response, a woman from my part of the crowd yells at the conductor, “Let her in!” Some of us join her with supportive words.
The lady enters like a cat. When the bus starts to move, her hands look for something to grab for balance. My hand successfully reaches hers. I manage my legs by leaning my feet against the seat to make some room for her to stand. She holds my wet shoulder. I feel that she is me and I am her. After two stops she looks at me and gets off the bus. I see her walk along the footpath—a singular girl. She joins the crowd of women walking ahead, and she becomes one of many.
Nipo | Bangladesh
Pss! Pss! I Slapped a Policeman Today
City flea market, Harare.
We shuffle through heaps of old clothes to find the cheapest. We resell these at a dollar each in Epworth, a rural settlement outside Harare. We sell to get just enough profit for the following day’s budget and remain with capital for tomorrow's order. We buy bread for children's sandwiches, veggies and tomatoes for supper, and keep coins for bus fare and pocket money.
The second hand clothes in the stacks smell so much.
'But why do the clothes smell this much?' my friend Lillian asks.
“I don’t know and I don’t care, Lillian, I just want the good ones. Somebody told me it’s a chemical that they spray to preserve the clothes.”
Suddenly we hear, “Kunyepa, mapeche enyu ndiwo anonhuwa!” In English, this means “You lie, it is your vaginas that smell!”
Before I realize that the intruder is a policeman, I slap him hard, twice. His cap falls down. As he bends to pick it up someone kicks him from behind. He bites the ground and groans. Crowd, jeers!
The policeman lies tummy down. Somebody nudges me and whispers, “Run!! There is going to be a scene.”
I hold Lillian’s hand and we run through the crowds. We jump into a taxi.
“Please take us to the main market, quick!” I throw a note, the driver takes off.
We buy cheap clothes and quickly change into them, discarding our original outfits.
We board a bus home, straight from the market. No city routes.
As I try to sit down someone nudges me and starts laughing. Another man!
‘But why are you laughing?’ I ask, feigning courage.
‘I was there. I kicked the policeman. I helped you get away?’
My heart kicks, I want to run!
‘Don’t be scared, well done. No more abuse of women in the city market. You are a strong woman!’
‘A strong vagina warrior!’ I shout back.
I look at Lillian, our eyes lock and we laugh again.
Chibairo | Zimbabwe
Standing Up for My Daughters
I was in the 6th week of pregnancy when an ultrasound showed that I was carrying twins. My mother-in-law and husband demanded a sex determination test to know the gender of my babies. They tortured me so that I would get it done.
When I still resisted, they fed me eggs, knowing that I was horribly allergic. They took me to the hospital where I was admitted to the labor room. The gynecologist advised a kidney and bladder ultrasound, but the radiologist conducted a fetal ultrasound instead. The ultrasound delivered the news that my babies were female. This is not what my family wanted to hear.
My mother-in-law asked me to at least have one child killed in-utero. She told me that my two daughters would be a huge burden on the family and that abortion was the only way.
They continued to torture me. On 17 May 2005, after a bout of abuse, I was close to miscarrying. They shut me up in the room without food or water. I managed to call my father in the morning. After much persuasion, my husband agreed to bring me to my parents’ home.
Due to all the tension, I delivered two pre-term daughters on 11 August. Even after the birth of my children, I suffered verbal abuse and I had no help in caring for my babies. My mother-in-law deliberately pushed my 4-month-old daughter down the staircase and pretended it was an accident. The children’s paternal grandparents and aunts rejected them totally. My husband turned me out of the house so he could remarry and have sons.
I have filed a case under the act that bans sex determination tests during pregnancy in India. In doing this I became the first mother to file a complaint under the act. I faced a lot of harassment, but I also saved my two daughters—and for that, I am happy.
Mitukhurana | India
Pictures of Our Ugliness!
“Make sure you take lots of interesting pictures!” That was what my boss requested of me when I sought his permission for a leave of absence to attend my sister’s wedding in Ghana.
It seemed like an innocent request, so I gladly obliged. I was going to take pictures anyway; he didn’t really have to ask.
Two days before my departure, however, my boss repeated his request, this time with exact descriptions of what he expected to see: potholes, pot-bellied children, mud huts, and village people. This was the Africa he knew. This was the Africa he had seen and heard about in the news. This was the Africa he saw when he looked at me, his capable assistant. If I was surprised and offended, I did not show it. After all, he was paying my salary, and he could not possibly mean those things in all seriousness.
Nevertheless, four days later, I found myself taking pictures of the very nature of which my boss requested. I saw the beauty right before my eyes in this place I called home, and yet there I was snapping away in shameless betrayal at every uncovered drain that spewed rubbish. In a part of the city where I accompanied my sister to get her dress hemmed, I found myself taking pictures of slum children. They were my boss’s exact description, and they gladly posed for my lenses. It was not all bad, however. I also found time to take pictures of much of our beauty, including the church where my sister got married, and the beautiful hotel garden where she held her reception.
A few days before my return to the US, we were going through the pictures when my mother asked, “Why are there so many pictures of ‘our ugliness?’” I felt unquestionable shame. This was my home, and I had taken pictures that would help feed my boss’s ignorance of a country he knew nothing about! I was enforcing a stereotype I knew he must have of me too, and by feeding this stereotype I was degrading myself, and the country I love.
Those pictures never made it across the ocean.
Back at the office, I proudly showed off the pictures of my beautiful country. I was also inspired by this experience to educate people like my boss. I started Afrikan Goddess Online, a publication for African women. The publication focuses on our beauty, not our ugliness.
Afrikan Goddess | US/Ghana
Standing up to Fight Alcoholism
We were sitting together in a group: a few hundred women discussing the reasons for our poor reproductive health. A medical survey had revealed that our average hemoglobin count was 8 grams per deciliter, instead of the 12 grams that would have declared health.
As we were talking about various medical solutions, one woman stood up and said, “As long as men continue to drink and beat us and make us work like chattels, there is no way we can improve our health or our status!” Immediately, there was a roar of approval from the women. They unanimously agreed that the illegal liquor shops must be closed down.
No sooner was this decided than we all got up from the meeting and went to a bootlegger shop nearby and told the owner to close it down. When he refused, we searched his shop, seized his cache of liquor, and took it to the nearest police station and deposited it there.
Thus began a massive movement of Bhil tribal women against alcoholism and bootlegging. Under my leadership, we seized an illegal warehouse where the biggest bootlegger of the area stocked his liquor. Anticipating our action, he had come down with his armed goons to prevent us, but when he saw the strength and determination of us women he stepped aside. This was the first time in the history of Bhil tribal women that women stood up against the patriarchal pressures of society.
We were able to force state authorities to take action against the powerful bootleggers; however, they did not like this women’s rebellion. They slapped false criminal cases on a few of the women and myself. We weren’t having any of it! We went on a hunger strike in prison against this injustice and succeeded in freeing ourselves unconditionally.
We proved to ourselves and to our villages that women can stand up against injustice and oppression and improve our status in the face of deeply rooted patriarchy.