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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The things we don’t speak about

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There is a common thing for all women over the world that we don’t speak about. Sch! Don’t! It’s taboo! It’s shameful! It happens to us all, some sooner, others later, but almost every woman in the world experiences it. Do I dare to say it out loud? Yes, I do – we get menstruation. Oh dear, if you find it offensive please stop reading right now, but otherwise I ask you to follow my thoughts.


Why is menstruation a well-known “secret”? Why is it considered shameful? Ever since humanity was created women have been menstruating, yet still in 2017, it is considered shameful. Women are created with the ability to become mothers, but that would be impossible if we don’t have menstruation. The problem with menstruation for too many girls is that sanitary pads and other kinds of menstrual protection are not available. They can be expensive to buy, especially if a family is already struggling financially.

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It can also be embarrassing to go to the local supermarket to buy sanitary pads and a lot of girls live far away from any shop so they need to make the pads themselves. For this purpose, they use dry grass, leaves, a small rag or even dried cow dung. For those of you men who are still reading this; imagine to be forced to have dry grass inside your underwear. It’s not more comfortable for a woman than it would be for you, I promise you that!


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All these homemade sanitary pads are not secure, so instead of being able to focus on their school studies, the girls are terrified that the menstrual blood will run through and make stains on their clothes. Too many girls stop going to school because of all the trouble with their menstruation. This leads to illiteracy, early marriages and maternal mortality because their young bodies are not mature enough to carry or give birth to a baby.


An awful fate is awaiting our girls and I think they deserve better than that, don’t you? It is necessary that all schools in The Gambia have proper toilets with running water and towels. There must be free sanitary pads for the girls who are old enough to menstruate. This will make it easier for them to change pads as soon as they need to.


There is also another problem and that is the heat that can cause smell and rashes. The rashes can then cause infections that can be hard to treat for a poor girl living far away from a clinic. It is also an embarrassing place for a rash so it is better to avoid them. Why on earth am I writing about this, you might wonder? Because we must raise the level of literacy for our girls and young women and that level is not only dependent on school fees, good teachers and books.


It is a matter of making life easier for the girls by speaking about the unspoken matters. As long as we avoid this slightly embarrassing subject our girls will keep on staying at home and men will keep on wondering why the girls don’t want to keep on studying. Speaking about men, I will hereby leave some space for my Gambian friend, Doctor Hagie KT Drammeh, who is a general practitioner at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden.


Doctor Drammeh has promised to share some of his expertise in this subject of which I’m very grateful. “Menstruation is the shedding of the lining of the uterus (endometrium) accompanied by bleeding. It occurs approximately in every month throughout a woman’s reproductive life, except in pregnancy and some hormonal disorders. Menstruation occurs if the eggs are not fertilized, the corpus luteum degenerates and no longer produces progesterone and the estrogens level will decrease causing the top layers to thicken the lining of the Uterus to break down and be shed.


“Menstruation is a natural course that takes place at puberty for girls and production of sperm for boys. For boys, at puberty, enlargement of the scrotum, testes, epidymis and prostate occurs. Things we don’t speak about for boys at puberty are erectile dysfunction (impotency), premature ejaculation, azoospermia (absence of sperm in semen) and aspermia.”


Thank you, Doctor Drammeh, for your interesting information.

Even if there might be some words that we are not familiar with, it was fascinating to read this description of our human functions. I’m sure that many of your readers are proud to see that one of our intelligent young men from The Gambia, is now working as a doctor in Sweden. I know he is very passionate about his work and a great role model for young men and women from The Gambia. There are many who wish to study and become something great in life.


You must have notice something – the use of unknown words, mostly Latin, an ancient language that no one speaks nowadays. It is a very practical language because it is used internationally to name all organs and bones in the human body. It is also used to name diseases – but then also translated to our native languages wherever we live in the world. I have three children, now young adults, and my youngest – who is my only daughter – is studying to become a nurse. She has been struggling with these Latin words a lot, they are not easy to remember.


For example, in the human foot, we have 26 bones and each and every one of them has a name in Latin. Doctors and nurses must learn what every bone and organ in the human body is called – in Latin and in their native language! I’m happy I didn’t have to learn that, my brain would have exploded! Well, whatever profession we choose, we know that hard work pays, sooner or later.


We must never give up, instead our goals should be high. All of us have gifts that we must exploit. I want to go back to where I began this article, to the fact that men and women don’t have the same opportunities in life. It begins when we are small children and continues throughout life. Men and women are created differently and if God wanted us girls / women to be this way, then why should anyone question it?


We want an equal society and that is not only a matter of the right to vote, there are many other aspects to consider too. Human rights include so many factors, not only the basic needs as food and a home to live in, but the right to equal education. We are slowly building a democracy in The Gambia but still too many female citizens are illiterate.


Too many men are too, but it is actually worse for women and especially women who live in a patriarchal society. As long as women are not considered as independent individuals with a constitutional right to education on the same premises as men, they are doomed to follow tradition.


Young women don’t only dream about getting married, having a home of their own and having babies. These women also dream about a proper education, the possibility to make a career and the ability to create a life they have chosen – not the tradition. Many women are content with the traditional way of living, and that is fine as long as it is their choice, but things have changed, societies have evolved and the women see that somewhere out in the world, women have other possibilities than at home.


In my society, here in Sweden, young men and women have the same possibilities. We can study and even keep on studying if we become pregnant at a young age. We have daycare centres with educated staff who take care of our children while we are at work or at school. The fee for this daycare is affordable because it depends on your income – low income = low fee. Becoming pregnant at a young age is not a disaster for a young woman here, even if she is not married, she doesn’t have to feel ashamed and she will get help from the society.


I know I have asked this before but I will keep on repeating myself until this has changed: why is it always the woman who bears the shame? We grow up with this from an early age: our physical functions are shameful, we get body shamed by boys and men who comment on our looks and make us feel that we don’t look okay.


We are the ones who must bear the shame of the result when the call of nature has been stronger than the rules of the society and we have become pregnant. And what about the boys and the men? We can’t become pregnant on our own so why are we the only ones to blame? Isn’t every child a gift from God? I know that the rules in a Muslim society, as well as in a Christian one, say that men and women have to be married before they begin to enjoy each other, but when the “mistake” is made and the result of it is obvious – why is it the young woman who has to feel ashamed and who has to fear what others will say?


Too many women have suffered and because these women must suffer their children will also suffer. A child that is not welcomed in the world has a tough start in life. A child should never feel that it is a burden. A child is a gift from God so how can we say that it is a mistake? It is like saying that God makes mistakes! By making the society a secure place for everyone to live in, we are welcoming each individual to take place and make the best of its life.


We welcome our boys and help them to grow up to be good men who feel responsible for their actions. We welcome our girls and help them in every way possible to go through the different stages of their womanhood. We offer them help so they can study and become strong and independent individuals who are a part of building up the new Gambia.


Traditions can be good but we must never be slaves under them. Don’t fear the unknown, learn about new things and see what you like or dislike. What is new sometimes needs to grow on you, so even if you don’t like it at first, you might like it in time. Don’t fear the future – take your place in it!

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