International Women’s Day


by Ivy Tirok, UWCM
March 3rd, 2018


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On the 8th of March 2018, we celebrate the International Day of the Woman under the theme #PressforProgress. This is a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements- from political to social- while calling for gender equality. The celebration has been observed since the early 1900s and is now recognised each year on March 8th. It is not affiliated with any one group but brings together governments, women’s organisations, corporations and charities.

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Being A Woman Across The World
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You have to keep it a secret. We do not talk about it where I am from. The first time it came, we were at my cousin’s engagement. Mama spotted the stain on my dress. She told me to stay seated at the corner of the homestead lest anyone else saw me. I sat there for hours and the painful feeling in my abdomen which I later learned was dysmenorrhea, became less tolerable. For the next four days, I was not allowed to go to school. I was told to sit by the river and none of my brothers spoke to me. I was not allowed to graze the cows because they would supposedly die considering my ‘unclean’ state. Secretly, I cut off small pieces of my blanket and stuck them on my worn underwear to retain the red monster. I threw them in the bush when they were soiled. Two years have passed now. I am left with a small piece of blanket to shield myself from the cold at night.
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Mother sat on my chest. She was heavy. 90 kilograms to be exact. While I struggled to breathe, the village doctor split my legs apart. I did not understand what was going on. Mother simply told me that today I would become a woman. Then the searing pain ran through my body. I recall seeing the doctor fiddling with a rusted dirty blade. As they began to cut, the black spots formed. They dotted my vision. The last thing I remember was mama muttering ‘be still my child’ with tears rolling down her cheeks.
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I wanted education. Papa wanted cows. Papa did not know that he could milk education more than cows. Mama told me that it was the price I had to pay for being a woman. I had to sacrifice my dreams for those of my future offspring. I was adamant. I refused to get married. Papa was infuriated and he frequently shouted at mama. One night, he hit her across the cheek because I had not been circumcised yet the first instalment of my bride price had been paid. On that night, mama told me to run away. ‘Escape while you can’ were the last words I heard from mama. I trekked until there were no more signs of the village; until I got to the priest’s home. The priest takes care of me now, together with other daring youth. My dreams of becoming a doctor and treating my people are now feasible.
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The Impact of Culture
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Menstruation is often dealt with in secrecy in many cultures. Such perceptions coupled with poor and inadequate sanitary facilities have often kept girls from attending schools especially during periods of menstruation. Consequently, many girls grow up with low self-esteem and are disempowered from educational attainments. There is gross lack of information on menstrual management among adolescent girls, a situation that has been made worse by the embarrassment with which discussions about menstruation are held. Adolescence is a time of great opportunities but also a time of heightened vulnerabilities. It is imperative to empower adolescent girls with adequate information and skills on crucial issues like menstrual hygiene and its management.

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Female Genital Mutilation includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. There are four types of female genital mutilation with varying degrees of severity. Regardless, FGM Is classified by the United Nations as a human rights violation. The idea that FGM is a cultural rite of passage, improves hygiene, increases marriageability, controls the woman’s sexuality and protects religion are the underlying causes of the prevalence of the practice. Beyond extreme physical and psychological pain, the practice carries many health risks, including cysts, problems when urinating, infections, complications during childbirth and even death. According to the UN, at least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone FGM in 30 countries where representative data is available. In most of these countries, majority of the girls were cut before the age of 5 years.
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In some cultures, child marriage is subsequent to FGM. Based on information from UNICEF, by 2017 about 750 million girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday. This is synonymous to an end to their education, vocation and right to make life choices. Additionally, girls who marry in childhood are at a greater risk for intimate partner violence than girls who marry later.
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Our Role as United World Colleges
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Education is a passport to freedom. It is the most powerful weapon which one can use to change the world. Many steps have been taken in promoting awareness on menstrual hygiene and management, curbing female genital mutilation and ending child marriage around the world. Nevertheless, we are still far from reaching the goal. I was outraged upon realizing that if my mother and her mother had not been educated, then I too would have faced the knife against my will. I would have been married off to a greying man with several other wives. But, that time is up.  Nelson Mandela once said, “Every now and then, a generation is called upon to be great.” We can be that great generation. As we celebrate the International Day of the Woman on the 8th of March, I ask you one question, “How can you help make womanhood a celebration for more people in society?”


References:

http://interactive.unwomen.org/multimedia/infographic/violenceagainstwomen/en/index.html#nav-

https://esa.un.org/iys/review09/countries/india/pdfs/India-IYS-MensturalHygieneBook.pdf

http://akidwa.ie/why-is-fgm-practised/

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