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Global Roundup: Women Delay Periods in Gaza, Mayan Softballers Break Macho Taboos, Lesbian Activists’ Gaza Awareness, Niger Women’s Groups Pursuing Justice, African Women’s Photography Exhibition
Curated by FG Contributor Inaara Merani
Palestinian women wash their clothes in the sea in Deir el-Balah in the southern Gaza Strip due to the lack of fresh water and elecricity on October 29, 2023 [Mahmud Hams/AFP]. (Al Jazeera)
Due to the desperate and unsanitary conditions in Gaza right now, many women have resorted to taking pills to delay their menstrual cycle. Women in Gaza are faced with displacement and overcrowded living conditions, as well as lack of access to water and menstrual hygiene products.
Women have begun taking norethisterone tablets, which are ordinarily prescribed for conditions such as painful periods, severe menstrual bleeding, or endometriosis. Obstetrics and Gynaecology medical consultant at the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, Dr Walid Abu Hatab, says the tablets keep progesterone levels raised to prevent the uterus from shedding its lining, therefore delaying one’s period.
Nevin Adnan, a psychologist and social worker based in Gaza City said more women are open to taking period-delaying pills to avoid embarrassment and shame due to the lack of hygiene, privacy, and available health products.
The pills, however, are accompanied by side effects such as irregular vaginal bleeding, nausea, changes to one’s menstrual cycle, dizziness, and mood swings. Women in Gaza have said they have no choice but to take the risk as the Israeli army continues its relentless genocidal campaign and blockade of Gaza.
I am experiencing the most difficult days of my life during this war. I got my period twice this month so far – which is very irregular for me – and suffered heavy bleeding. – Salma Khaled, 41-year-old forced to flee her home in Tel al-Hawa neighborhood and is now sheltered with family
Without the means to manage her menstruation as she usually would, Salma decided to try to find pills to skip her period. While sanitary napkins are in demand and hard to find, period-delaying tablets are generally more available in some pharmacies as they are not commonly used.
Many displaced women in Gaza have spoken out about the toll the last three weeks have taken on both their physical and mental health. The displacement of hundreds of thousands of people has caused extreme stress for everyone living in Gaza, and for women who are on their period, or days before or after, their symptoms can be heightened.
In war, we are forced to do everything we can. There is never a choice. – Salma Khaled
Salma says there are not enough sanitary pads available in the few shops and pharmacies that have remained open. Meanwhile, sharing a house with dozens of relatives amid a water shortage has made regular hygiene a luxury – if not an impossibility. The use of the bathroom must be rationed, and showering is limited to once every few days.
Pharmacies and stores alike are facing dwindling supplies due to the total siege imposed by Israel following an attack by the armed wing of the Palestinian group Hamas on October 7. In addition, Israel’s bombardment of main roads in the Gaza Strip has made transporting products from medical warehouses to pharmacies an impossible task, according to Abu Hatab.
Sitlali Yovana Poot Dzib, 20 (left), captain of The Amazonas of Yaxunah, high fives her teammates after a home run in a game played on Sept. 10. The indigenous women on the team live in the small Maya community of Yaxunah in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. They wear traditional Maya garb when they play – and eschew shoes. (Texas Public Radio)
Las Amazonas de Yaxunah are an indigenous, all-women’s softball team that has become famous throughout Mexico. In a sport that is commonly dominated by men and a machismo attitude, this team of women is spreading the message that women are just as capable.
The women made the decision to play in huipiles, embroidered dresses, to pay homage to their Mayan culture, and to demonstrate that women can be both feminine and strong. They also reinforce their bravery by playing without shoes, as most people in Yaxunah are frequently barefoot, which the team said influenced their decision to play their matches shoeless. Their choice of uniform has inspired three other teams from neighboring villages to play in huipiles.
Although Las Amazonas de Yaxunah have made waves in Mexico in recent months, it was not an easy road to fame. One of the team members, 20-year-old Yovana Poot Dzib, said that many men in her rural community believe that women should stay home or tend to animals in their backyards, four years ago, Poot was chastised by men for playing a sport. It was not until 2019 when a video of the team gained national attention, featuring them playing a game in their unconventional uniforms.
Our lives are different now. The same people who criticized us have become our biggest fans. Sport is a powerful tool. The misogynistic insults have converted into positive cheers. – Yovana Poot Dzib
There are 26 players on the team, ranging in age from 16 to 62. The matches offer free entry, so the majority of fees come from team members covering the cost for equipment, transportation, and other fees. Many of these women have waited for decades to play, fighting societal norms and breaking through the machismo taboo.
With their rise in fame over the last few years, Las Amazonas de Yaxunah were invited to play the Falcons from Phoenix University in September where hundreds of spectators watched in-person and thousands watched online. Their next step could be playing in Europe or potential sponsorship deals.
I’ve dealt with machismo my entire life. My mother demanded that I acted more like a woman, which was incredibly frustrating. I had to face the reality that it was prohibited in my village for young girls to play a man’s sport…Sport was a no-go for women, but we had enough and decided to tell our husbands, fathers and brothers that we would play whether they approved or not. – María Enedina Canul Poot, one of the team founders
One of the Dyke Project’s replaced adverts. (Dyke Project)
Last week, a group of lesbian activists replaced the advertisements on public transportation across London with stories from the LGBTQ+ community in Palestine. The activists represented the Dyke Project, a group of trans, cis, and nonbinary lesbians and queers of all persuasions. The group says it was formed to oppose narratives that pit trans people and lesbians against one another.
Posts from the website Queering the Map were plastered across advertisements at bus stops and on trains and buses. Jess Elliott from the Dyke Project said that this campaign aims to “remind our community that none of us are free until all of us are, and we will not let our struggle be used to distract from the violent genocide of others.”
This campaign was meant to educate individuals in London not only about the Israel-Hamas conflict, calling for an end to the violence, but to also draw attention to the queer community that exists in Palestine, which is also a victim of this genocide.
The Dyke Project joins more than 520 worldwide LGBTQ+ organizations, along with individuals from around the world, who signed an open letter in solidarity with the Palestinian liberation movement, demanding an immediate ceasefire and the restoration of all aid.
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Earlier this summer in Niger, a coup-d’état by the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland removed and detained the president. There are now more than 500,000 internally displaced people, 84 per cent of whom are women and children.
Women’s groups in Niger have started a campaign to promote peace and stability in the country, and especially for the need to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, to preserve gains in women’s rights, and to continue the provision of essential services, including maternal and reproductive healthcare, as well as water and electricity.
This crisis threatens to ruin my business and drive me into food and financial insecurity…As a direct victim of this crisis, we appeal to the parties involves […] to take our rights into account. – Hadiza, a woman in Niger who makes a living importing clothes from Nigeria
Local rights group Femmes, Action team Développement (FAD) facilitated the Niger Femmes Filles Paix campaign, which launched on September 5. The campaign has been supported by almost 30 women’s civil society groups who want to reduce the suffering and harm of women during the coup.
At the end of September, more than 100 participants representing women’s groups throughout Niger gathered to host a dialogue on the country’s political situation. Under the banner “Movement for the Respect of Women’s Rights in Niger”, activists called for nearby countries, local political, traditional, and religious leaders and de facto auhorities to continue to safeguard the rights of women and children and to include women in political processes. Prior to the coup, women’s participation in parliament was 30.72 percent, but now with the all state institutions dissolved, the future of women’s political participation is uncertain.
Since the coup d’état, I have noticed a certain deterioration of my rights as a woman. Women must be put at the forefront of any question that concerns peace, dialogue, and social cohesion, because they are an important pillar of society. – Rachida, young activist
Tempest by Thandiwe Muriu, who showcases Africa’s unique mix of vibrant textiles, cultural practices and beauty ideologies. Photograph: Thandiwe Muriu/Courtesy of African Women in Photography (The Guardian)
Sarah Waiswa is a self-taught photographer who is making noise about women’s rights and expression through art. Originally from Uganda, Waiswa spent almost a decade abroad working in the US and returned to Kenya in 2010. Upon her return to the African continent, she was struck by the changes that had occurred for women, especially their ability to express their views and to talk about their experiences. In particular, a number of women were redefining what an “African identity” meant to them.
As a way to reconnect with the changed continent, Waiswa took up photography as a hobby, which eventually morphed into a career. Her photographs use visual contrasts for social commentary; for example, her photo series on ballets in Kibera, Kenya shows dancers from the Nairobi slum practicing an art that is commonly associated with privilege and/or wealth. After beginning photography in 2015, she came to realize there was no centralized databases for African women photographers, so in 2021 she created the database African Women in Photography to publish and exhibit their work, also providing artists with a space to engage and collaborate, and receive training and funding opportunities.
The internet democratised photography – it made it easier for people to self-publish and this helped shift the narrative, because people are able to tell stories about themselves and their communities. – Sarah Waiswa
Waiswa brings her work, along with that of other African women photographers, to a new exhibition that she has curated at the Goethe Insitute in Nairobi. The exhibition, titled Sisi ni Hao – meaning “we are them” or “we are here” – is a nod to women’s shared history.
Sisi ni Hao features visual works by 12 women photographers from Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Rwanda. Some of the featured artists include Mumbai Muturi, a Kenyan photographer who illustrates the grief she felt after losing her mom with soft and vulnerable imagery that challenges the linear equivalences of Black womanhood with relentless strength. Another photographer from Tanzania, Neema Ngelime, conveys a tribute to women’s paid and unpaid labour, whereas DeLovie Kwagala uses documentary photography to share the transgender experience through family relationships. Thandiwe Muriu uses hairstyles and colourful fabrics that showcase women simultaneously blending into and standing out in society, highlighting womanhood and culture.
The exhibition will be running until November 10 at the Goethe Institute in Nairobi.
When other people have told your stories for so long and represented you in a certain way, it’s even more important for us to give our own perspectives – a more nuanced view of what women’s lives and experiences are like on the continent. We need to reclaim the narrative. – Sarah Waiswa
Inaara Merani (she/her) recently completed her Masters degree at the University of Western Ontario, studying Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a specialization in Transitional Justice. In the upcoming years, she hopes to attend law school, focusing her career in human rights law.
Inaara is deeply passionate about dismantling patriarchal institutions to ensure women and other marginalized populations have safe and equal access to their rights. She believes in the power of knowledge and learning from others, and hopes to continue to learn from others throughout her career.