For many African girls, menstruation means humiliation

A worker cuts locally made sanitary pads known as Makapads, made from waste paper with papyrus as the absorbent, that sell for half the price of imported pads, at a factory in Kampala, Uganda in this July 17 photo. (AP)
Updated 20 July 2017

For many African girls, menstruation means humiliation

WAKISO, Uganda: Some menstruating schoolgirls were locked in dormitories while their peers were in class. To avoid the humiliation, others stayed home.
As more girls skipped class because they could not afford sanitary pads, authorities at a government-backed school outside Uganda’s capital, Kampala, were forced to do what few have done: Provide free sanitary pads.
“We looked at the absenteeism rate and you would find that in a class if there are six people who are absent, at least four of them are girls. Some boldly came to us and said, ‘When we are on our period there is no care, so that’s why we prefer staying at home,’” said Vincent Odoi, a teacher at Wampewo Ntakke Secondary School.
Menstrual hygiene has emerged as a serious, and often emotional, subject in Africa, where some experts say governments must supply free sanitary pads to schoolgirls who often are at risk of dropping out because of embarrassment.
The issue recently became politically charged in Uganda when a prominent academic was jailed for calling President Yoweri Museveni “a pair of buttocks” after the government broke a promise to provide free sanitary pads to schoolgirls across the country.
One in 10 African schoolgirls misses school during menstruation, according to the UN, and many, after lagging behind, eventually drop out.
Last month, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a law authorizing his government to supply sanitary pads to teenage girls at public schools nationwide. Zambia announced a similar plan in 2016 targeting schoolgirls in rural and semi-rural areas.
But elsewhere in Africa, appeals for free sanitary pads have not been so successful.
Stella Nyanzi, a research fellow at Uganda’s Makerere University, faces criminal charges after she accused the country’s first family of being out of touch with ordinary people when the government said it couldn’t afford to donate sanitary pads.
“Girls and young women are not going to stop menstruating in the near or far-off future,” Nyanzi’s campaign, dubbed #Pads4GirlsUg, told reporters after she was released from jail in May. The campaign has raised nearly $10,000, and Nyanzi visits schools where she distributes the pads amid boisterous song and dance.
About 34 percent of Uganda’s population lives below the poverty line on less than $2 per day, according to World Bank figures. Much of sub-Saharan Africa faces similar levels of poverty, or worse.
At Wampewo Ntakke Secondary School outside Kampala, authorities once confined menstruating girls to dormitories because there was no running water and some girls, lacking sanitary pads, stank in class. But there was another problem: Imported sanitary pads were rapidly filling up the latrines, imposing new costs for frequently emptying them.
In the end, the school’s board decided in 2013 that it would be wiser to provide locally made, biodegradable sanitary pads to all schoolgirls. The move has all but ended absenteeism tied to sanitary hygiene, said Odoi, who oversees the program.
“It’s something we put in our budget, just like any other expenses like electricity, water and others,” he said. “We said, ‘Let’s provide for a certain amount of money to cater for this,’ and it has worked. We have not seen that expenditure entering so deep in our pockets. It can be done.”
The school spends about $1,000 on sanitary pads for each three-month academic term.
Student Patricia Mukashema said the school’s generosity helped families who could not afford the pads. “Now we don’t put that pressure on our parents,” she said.
Another student, Patience Atim, said she was touched by news reports of schoolgirls in rural Uganda who cite “too much suffering” when they use crude substitutes for pads.
“They will use bedsheets, fibers,” she said.
The pad given out at the school is known as Makapad, the product of a Ugandan academic who created it with the backing of the Rockefeller Foundation. The pads — made from waste paper and with papyrus as the absorbent — sell for half the price of imported pads, yet there is not widespread demand for them, said inventor Moses Musaazi.
Sixty-three cents — or 2,300 Uganda shillings — for a pack of 10 Makapads is still a lot of money for some Ugandans, Musaazi said.
“It’s a mindset of poverty. When somebody is poor, you wouldn’t want to spend a shilling, even if it is on a vital component of their life. What they think is essential is not a sanitary pad.”
Since 2005, when Makapads were unveiled, most have been bought by the UN refugee agency in Uganda, said Juliet Nakibuule, who runs Technology for Tomorrow, a local company that distributes them.
Odoi, the school official, said he has come to think of sanitary pads as essential for schoolgirls’ well being, as important as food and drink.
“If other head teachers can follow the same example and give out free pads, I think it will be very good for this country,” he said.


India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

Updated 03 July 2022

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

  • Sanna Irshad Mattoo was to travel for a book launch, photography exhibition
  • The photojournalist is one of 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020

NEW DELHI: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Kashmiri photojournalist said on Saturday that she was stopped by Indian immigration authorities from flying to Paris without giving any reason. 

In a tweet, Sanna Irshad Mattoo said she was scheduled to travel from New Delhi to Paris for a book launch and photography exhibition as one of 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020. 

"Despite procuring a French visa, I was stopped at the immigration desk at Delhi airport,” she said. 

She said she was not given any reason but was told by immigration officials that she would not be able to travel internationally. 

There was no immediate comment by Indian authorities. 

Mattoo was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Feature Photography category for the coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in India as part of a Reuters team. 

She has been working as a freelance photojournalist since 2018 depicting life in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where insurgents have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with neighboring Pakistan. 

Journalists have long braved threats in the restive region as the government seeks to control the press more effectively to censure independent reporting. Their situation has grown worse since India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019. 


Bus crash kills at least 20 in southwest Pakistan — official

Updated 03 July 2022

Bus crash kills at least 20 in southwest Pakistan — official

  • Poor road infrastructure and rash driving often cause deadly road crashes in Pakistan

QUETTA: A passenger bus plunged into a ravine in southwestern Pakistan on Sunday killing 20 people, a government official said.
The road crash also injured another 13 people aboard the bus that was traveling from garrison city of Rawalpindi to Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan province, said Ijaz Jaffar, deputy commissioner of Sherani district.
The ravine is some 350 kilometers north of Quetta.
Poor road infrastructure and rash driving often cause deadly road crashes in Pakistan.
The province is home to several Chinese projects under an investment plan in which Beijing is seeking road and sea trade linkages with the world. 


Blasts kill 3 in Russian border city, lawmaker blames Ukraine

Updated 03 July 2022

Blasts kill 3 in Russian border city, lawmaker blames Ukraine

  • At least four people were injured and two hospitalized, including a 10-year-old boy
  • Since Russia launched it invasion on Feb. 24, there have been numerous reports of attacks on Belgorod and other regions bordering Ukraine

At least three people were killed and dozens of residential buildings damaged in the Russian city of Belgorod near the Ukraine border, the regional governor said, after reports of several blasts in the city.
At least 11 apartment buildings and 39 private houses were damaged, including five that were destroyed, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov posted on the Telegram messaging app.
Gladkov said earlier the “incident” was being investigated, adding, “Presumably, the air defense system worked.”
At least four people were injured and two hospitalized, including a 10-year-old boy, Gladkov said.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports. There was no immediate reaction from Ukraine to the reports.
Belgorod, a city of nearly 400,000 some 40 km (25 miles) north of the border with Ukraine, is the administrative center of the Belgorod region.
Since Russia launched it invasion on Feb. 24, there have been numerous reports of attacks on Belgorod and other regions bordering Ukraine, with Moscow accusing Kyiv of carrying out the strikes.
Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for previous attacks but has described the incidents as payback and “karma” for Russia’s invasion.
Moscow calls its actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and its allies in the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.


Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protest

Updated 03 July 2022

Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protest

  • If the reform is endorsed in the planned referendum, it would reset Mirziyoyev’s term count and allow him to run for two more terms

ALMATY: Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on Saturday dropped plans to curtail the autonomy of the country’s Karakalpakstan province following a rare public protest in the northwestern region, his office said.
Friday’s rally was called to protest constitutional reform plans that would have changed the status of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic home to the Karakalpak people — an ethnic minority group with its own language, Uzbek authorities said.
Police dispersed the protesters after some of them tried to storm local government buildings in the region’s capital, Nukus, following a march and a rally at the city’s central market, local and government officials said.
Mirziyoyev later issued a decree proclaiming a state of emergency in Karakalpakstan for a month “in order to ensure the security of citizens, defend their rights and freedoms and restore the rule of law and order” in the region.
Under the current Uzbek constitution, Karakalpakstan is described as a sovereign republic within Uzbekistan that has the right to secede by holding a referendum.
The new version of the constitution — on which Uzbekistan plans to hold a referendum in the coming months — would no longer mention Karakalpakstan’s sovereignty or right for secession.
But in a swift reaction to the protest, Mirziyoyev said on Saturday during a visit to Karakalpakstan that the changes regarding its status must be dropped from the proposed reform, his office said in a statement.
Karakalpakstan’s government said in a statement earlier on Saturday that police had detained the leaders of Friday’s protest, and several other protesters who had put up resistance.
The changes concerning Karakalpakstan were part of a broader constitutional reform proposed by Mirziyoyev, which also includes strengthening civil rights and extending the presidential term to seven years from five.
If the reform is endorsed in the planned referendum, it would reset Mirziyoyev’s term count and allow him to run for two more terms.


Waterways in Brazil’s Manaus choked by tons of trash

Updated 02 July 2022

Waterways in Brazil’s Manaus choked by tons of trash

  • From January to May, city workers have removed 4,500 tons of trash, most of which could have been recycled instead of being thrown in the river

MANAUS: In Manaus, the largest city in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, tons of stinking trash fill the canals and streams, giving one the feeling that they’re visiting a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

On the west side of the city, in a poor neighborhood where homes have been erected on stilts, a worker uses an excavator to scoop up a bucket-load of bottles, pieces of plastic and even home appliances that have been tossed in the water.

Not far from the city’s main port, municipal workers wearing orange uniforms gather garbage from a boat and pile it onto a big barge floating on the Rio Negro, one of the Amazon River’s main tributaries.

With the rising water levels signaling an end to the rainy season, the mounds of trash are often intermingled with leaves and tree branches.

Each day, nearly 30 tons of debris is plucked from the water. In some areas, the water is almost completely covered.

The massive influx of trash to Manaus’s waterways occurs around this time every year, but city authorities believe the situation has gotten worse in recent weeks.

From January to May, city workers have removed 4,500 tons of trash, most of which could have been recycled instead of being thrown in the river.

“The people who live on the water’s edge throw garbage straight into the streams... few people put it in the trash,” says Antonino Pereira, a 54-year-old Manaus resident who complains that the stench is unbearable.

According to the city’s undersecretary of sanitation, Jose Reboucas, if the population was more aware of the costs associated with littering, the city could save $190,000 per month.

“The awareness of the population will be very beneficial for our city and especially for our environment,” he said.

The Amazonian region is also facing a major threat from deforestation, with more than 3,750 square kilometers of jungle chopped down since the beginning of the year.