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Let me tell you how I came to become an activist.

7 July 2000

MY name is Nailoke Mhanda, I'm 17 years old, from Namibia. It was good of you to write to me in response to my letter to Sister Namibia, about empowering women worldwide and their rights and everything that goes beyond rights.

Allow me to introduce myself. I'm in grade 12 at a private high school which is governed by the Lutheran church, established in the 1960s by missionaries from Finland. My family lives 60 km away from the school and at weekends I hike there. I'm from an extended family; my mother is a teacher and my father is a farmer. I'm the only daughter, with six brothers. We are from the northern part of Namibia, where there are villages.

I can't wait to finish high school (only three months left). I'm doing a science course of study: biology, physical science, mathematics, English, development studies and Oshidonga (local language). These are on a high level and too demanding but I'm determined because I would like to become a medical doctor, despite the many years of study it takes. In the North where I live, we've got only two local male doctors and the rest are from elsewhere. I had this feeling of becoming a doctor to show that women could also be professional doctors.

Now let me tell you about how I came to become an activist for the Girls Speak Out Network. It all began when a penpal of mine in the States sent me a storybook as a 16th birthday present. The book was Girls Speak Out. To my surprise, this book awakened my feelings for the women of this world. I wrote directly to one of the authors, who replied and explained about their organisation. She seemed astonished that someone like me should step out of the crowd and at my age. But I don't think I've acquired this behaviour, I think it is an in-born behaviour, because in the environment where I live, not many people care about women.

I've been defending girls' rights since I was very, very young and in primary school, but then I didn't know that what was within me was very important and right. As an only daughter, I asked my father to buy me a bicycle when I was maybe 11 years old since he had bought all my brothers bikes. He refused but I didn't give up, I learned how to ride behind his back, on my brothers' bicycles. One day I did it in his presence and he was very surprised, he even joked that now he would buy me one, but he never did. I don't blame him, because he was just following our traditions, but I'm happy I exercised my rights too because now I'm sent places on a bike when my brothers aren't around.

At school, my friends and I were called 'monsters' by a gang of boys who think of themselves as cool--just because we never compromised ourselves by their ideas of being 'easy' girls, chicks, cherries, weak, lazybones. So they gave up.

After my article came out in Sister Namibia, a lot of people contacted me, boys and girls, and people are still signing up. I'm proud that I'm part of those who care for women's rights. There is this guy from the city who is very determined about equality. He is a working man, 29 years of age but single, and he really wanted to make a change, he was the first to write to me. I think he deserves to receive a journal for all the tasks which I entrusted to him, to convince his friends and neighbours to take part in this Girls Speak Out Network and create a happy atmosphere for everyone.

Keep women's rights raised up high. People are welcome to write to me--I'm always ready to share a piece of my mind. I write stories too, I wrote one called 'Puberty venom' and another called 'Chocolate coated chilli' and many more.

8 December 2000

Hello again ... I've just graduated from high school and am looking forward to tertiary education and the future. Thanks for inviting me to send something for your next journal issue. I've just completed the first draft of a play entitled 'When love flies out ...' I can hardly wait to see it published by my local publishers. I want to be the first Namibian teen to get a play published (even better a female one).

I have written something about menstruation for you. It was done by observation and tactfully, and I have ensured that no names of real persons are mentioned. It is all true and neither adjusted nor exaggerated.

According to our traditions, our mothers have taught us that "As a lady, now that you've started your periods, never let a male or anybody else know when you are on your periods. And never leave a trace of blood in the open, you'll be mocked and laughed at by the birds in the sky." So everything is confidential and private and if by any chance these findings apply to someone else, then it is purely a coincidence!

Help! Our Wombs Are Crumbling to Pieces!

by Nailoke Mhanda

Four out of seven girls in Namibia suffer from menstrual pains. These pains are said to be a form of inheritance in some families, because it runs from a grandmother to a mother to a daughter and to granddaughters. Older women who have experienced these pains describe them as similar to labour pains. And in some cases they are similar to symptoms of early pregnancy. These pains really have a negative impact on the lives of many young Namibian women. Is this only our crisis or is the whole globe suffering out there?

Most girls try to ease these pains with simple painkillers of various kinds. Most girls have seen a doctor but no signs of infection or sexually transmitted diseases have been found.

A young woman looks at the calendar and sighs when she notices that it's only two days before her period starts again. This means 'doomsday' for most girls. For some, the pain begins a week before menstruation but for most the pain begins at the same time as menstruation. There is high body temperature, dizziness, difficulty breathing, sweating, even nausea, and then the pains begin.

The pain feels as if the inner surface of the womb is peeling off (falling apart, crumbling to pieces!) and it is unbearable. For some girls, the pain eases with a warm or cold towel on the abdomen. The blood clots for some girls are as large as 1.3 cm in diameter. During these disastrous periods, most of the girls lose their appetite and throw up if they smell fatty dishes, perfume, petrol or when confined to small space or a crowded room.

One out of three girls has to miss classes for at least two days when her period is in session. Most prefer to spend the time lying on their sides or flat on their stomachs. But this can cause problems and discomfort too.

Our parents taught us that menstruation is 'going to the moon', 'staring at the moon' which refers to the time when our foremothers calculated the start of their periods by the position of the moon. They were guided in many things by the moon in those days.

This is a 'shameful confession' for most Namibian girls because it is believed to be abnormal to talk about menstruation in public. Some girls who suffer from period pains keep it locked up within themselves and are very shy to discuss it with anybody. That is why I have written this 'confession', to help out those who are troubled.

Here are some examples of the way girls describe the impact of these pains:

* Want to rip out my womb with a knife.

* Want to get a doctor to remove my ovaries, tubes and disgusting womb. I would even choose infertility and barrenness as my future just to make sure I put an end to these horrible pains.

* Called off a recent trip because I had a painful period.

* Always angry and moody during my unbearable periods and take it out on those near me.

* Missed an exam to stay in bed because of the pains.

* Went to the hospital without notifying anybody in the house, in case they worried.

* Have to stay in isolation and suffer alone and pray that it will soon stop.

* I want to shout 'Help! My womb is falling apart!'

Some girls, when they remember the prayer 'Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, And if I should die before I wake ...' even say 'Oh yes, if only I could die before I wake!' I am sure having the same pains again and again disturbs girls' minds one way or another. How can someone remain mentally stable having to go through this every month?

Of course, there are some girls who feel absolutely nothing and enjoy every minute of their periods. Some of the 'free' girls who get worried when their periods are a bit late can't wait for them to start and rejoice when they do start because they know they aren't pregnant! Then they can enjoy going to the moon a thousand times more.

But for the girls suffering every month from their periods, these pains have to be stopped so that they can have a healthy and emotionally stable life. These girls have to be saved at all costs. I would welcome any truly effective suggestions so that we can put them into the media where they can be heard in every corner of Namibia and the world.

I want to know from young and older women out there, I want to ask you, is this the same crisis with you over there in Europe, Asia, Australia, North and Latin America? Do girls over there also go through this trauma?

My motto has always been 'Turn a cottage into a mansion'. I would like to change the world for the better and make it a place where equality and the seeds of peace grow. My name Nailoke means 'let it rain' and Mhanda means 'the terminator rhinoceros'. Let the flame of equality for young women burn on to the end of the world.

Nailoke Mhanda

PO Box 60985

Katutura, Windhoek

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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Mhanda, Nailoke
Publication:Reproductive Health Matters
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:May 1, 2001
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