In an Age of Comparison, Busy does not Equal Productive

It seems that we have forgotten what it’s like to intentionally choose rest. When we do, we feel as though we are derailing our lives. It plagues us with guilt. I believe that this thinking is rooted in a culture of shame, pride and comparison.

How can shame and pride thrive simultaneously?

If you think about it, one cannot exist without the other. A culture of shame, lurking behind our obsession with productivity, is deeply embedded within society. And I would argue that it affects women more harshly.

One of the greatest threats to our peace of mind and ability to enjoy the present moment is the idea that busyness equates with productivity. We obsessively praise and admire what looks like productivity.

Instagram stories, facebook posts and twitter updates fuel the phenomenon. We see our friends’ elaborately organised desks and cups of coffee as we mindlessly scroll through our feeds, feeling guilty for not doing more ourselves. These constant comparisons and feelings of falling short pose a serious threat to our mental well-being.

When did our mental energy become less important than being recognized as worthy and successful by society?

Picture this: the ideal woman. She is able to multitask at all times, dedicates a perfect amount of time to each task, and always looks flawless. Effortlessly efficient in the workplace, she still makes it home in time to make dinner from scratch. She spends time with her family and gets the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

For real? These are impossible standards to live up to on a good day. More than anything, they set us up for burnout.

The dominant message is that it’s okay to compromise our health and wellness at the expense of appearing successful and gaining praise from others. We are expected to keep it together at every moment of every day, and to carry the emotions of our children and significant others while seamlessly managing our own. We should not express or even identify as feeling any anger or irritation. We are expected to love perfectly.

This is what is implicitly perpetuated by a culture obsessed with productivity and achievement. How busy we are has become an indication of our worthiness.

Busy does not equal productive. 

Breaking down, being vulnerable, admitting to sometimes not being able to handle everything: we view these as weaknesses. Can you see it now? Little old pride, rearing its head, spurred on by shame and ready to put up a fight.

It is time for this narrative to change. We need to make a conscious individual and collective effort to fight back against this mentality, especially at a time when mental illness is more prevalent than ever.

Periods of rest should not be scorned and embraced only once we are exhausted beyond recognition. Rest should be an intentional form of self-care to maintain good mental health, not a last-minute strategy to salvage what’s left.

Talking Frankly: Vaginas & Menstrual Hygiene

I have an insatiable urge to persuade my sisters around the world to tear off shame with all their strength. I yearn to tell them to deny society the privilege of silencing us when when we want to talk about things that matter. Things like vaginas and menstruation.

Here is the real deal.

We can crush the walls erected around us in the name of culture simply by talking about the well-being of our vaginas. During menstruation, things can get a little bit messy down there, and so you need proper sanitary wear to maintain freshness and hygiene.

It’s absurd that around the world, many are still found wanting of these necessities. Can you imagine the trauma women have to go through? There is a dire need to talk about vaginal health and hygiene during menstruation. It’s only by doing so that we will terminate the silence and the myths.

The vagina is a part of the body which must be hidden from view. It’s not something a woman can easily speak about – that’s how we are socialized. Therefore, over the years, generations have been enduring menstruation in silence and shame, and without proper sanitary wear.

But has the silence been beneficial? Certainly not. Our misery around menstruation is utter, lonely and complete.

This is why I plead with my Zimbabwean government – and other governments across the globe that have remained ignorant – to prioritize menstrual hygiene.

In Zimbabwe, the provision of free sanitary products – especially in rural and marginalized areas where women and girls live in poverty – should be a central focus.

Vaginas are naturally moist. This means that women without access to safe sanitary products during menstruation become at risk of disease and infection. I wonder, then, about the vaginal health of girls and women who are forced for whatever reason to use cow dung, leaves or grass?

This seems like a good moment to say that if it has ever crossed your mind that talking about the hygiene of vaginas during menstruation is disgusting, wait! What’s really disgusting is the fact that our governments are able to provide free condoms of all shapes and sizes, but have the audacity to reiterate that they can’t afford to provide free sanitary products.

Menstruation is not a choice.

You can’t wake up one day and decide not to have your period. It will happen whether you like it or not, and whether you’re equipped to deal with it or not.

Refusing to prioritize menstrual hygiene is a sure-fire way to further perpetuate gender inequality. In many parts of the world, women and girls constitute a larger percentage of those who are economically dependent. Many simply cannot afford the cost of sanitary wear throughout their menstruating years. Denying access to basic menstrual hygiene products impedes on individuals’ well-being as equal human beings.

The scales of imbalance need to be tilted and menstrual hygiene must be recognized as a priority in order to do so.

The girls and women using cow dung, leaves or grass during menstruation are, in most cases, predominantly poor, geographically and socially isolated from the rest of the world and lacking in political power. It is important for charitable organizations, advocacy campaigns and governments to come up with interventions that are compatible with their circumstances. A ‘one size fits all’ approach won’t work.

Although some of Zimbabwe’s most marginalized communities are still conservative, I can confidently argue that within these communities there are many individuals who are eager for change. They want it so badly, but they just need that push of support to get the work done.

I firmly believe that ending the silence and shame surrounding menstruation is possible, one community at a time.

Along with universal access to products, what if women could be empowered with knowledge to make simple handmade sanitary pads using low cost materials? I think it would be ground breaking.

The problem of unhygienic menstruation can be solved if practical interventions are executed well and the cultural taboos are challenged. Do you agree? I’d love to hear your perspective.

?Read more menstruation posts on girlsglobe.org?

?Check out 
Girls’ Globe’s Menstrual Hygiene Day Facebook Live, where we challenged taboos and stigma by busting common myths around menstruation?

Learning to Honour our Sacred Menstruation

I can still remember how I felt when I got my first period. I was scared, confused and really not sure what was happening to my body. My mother took me aside and explained that I was becoming a woman.

She taught me how to use a sanitary pad, but emphasized that this was a deeply personal experience to be kept private. As an obedient daughter, I didn’t share my menstrual matters with anyone – not my siblings, not my friends, not my father, no-one. It was my secret to bear silently.

Young girls are taught from their first period that menstruation is taboo and dirty.

They are taught that however natural it is, it’s also shameful, disgusting and a source of impurity. I learnt early that menstruation was not to be discussed openly, and I understood that no-one should be made aware of it.

All of this appears deeply illogical when you consider that nearly half the world’s population will go through menstruation in their lifetime. How has modern society managed to convince us all that menstruation, a natural bodily process, is a social and spiritual abomination?

As a woman in her late twenties, it is only now that I have decided to change my perspective regarding menstruation.

The emotional and spiritual work I have been doing in last two years has helped me realize that menstruation is something beautiful, sacred and worthy of celebrating. This realization has required a process of unlearning the beliefs and ideas I held about menstruation. It has also required me to embrace my body and love it in all its phases and manifestations. I’m learning to tap into the sacred power of menstruation and to understand what it means to be divinely feminine.

Menstruation is a gift. Think about it.

It is a process that allows us to give birth to new life. It’s a function of the wondrous uterus, a self-cleansing and purposeful organ. Menstruation is an experience that unifies women across the world. It reminds us of our great feminine abilities. How can we not celebrate this? Menstruation is deserving of more recognition and appreciation.

In many ancient cultures, menstruation was seen as a sacred and precious time. Due to the connection of the cycle to the moon phases, menstruating women were believed to harness great ‘shamanic’ and spiritual power. Anthropologists suggest this may explain the use of menstrual huts in certain cultures, originally intended as safe spaces for women to retreat at the ‘height of their powers’.

In honouring menarche, different cultures celebrate a girl’s first period. They view it as a right of passage in to womanhood and mark the occasion with a ritual or cultural practice. Menstruation is given the respect and the regard it is worthy of.

What if we chose to look at menstruation differently?

Let us remove the stigma and shame. We have an opportunity to embrace and acknowledge something beautiful and fascinating. Beyond the biology, menstruation is a spiritual time that allows women to connect to a deeper part of themselves. It’s a time to release old and negative energies, and begin a new phase of self-growth and reflection. To me, that sounds like something worth celebrating.

?Read more menstruation posts on girlsglobe.org ?

Obstetric Fistula is a Physical & Mental Health Priority

“It’s been three years now, I can’t wear underwear, urine is always leaking. I have developed sores on my genitals that aren’t healing because of the moisture. I dread going out in public.

The last time I went to a gathering, people distanced themselves from me because of the bad smell. I repelled them. I’m confined to this house so I can bathe each time I soil myself. My entire family believes I was cursed, they say no one has ever had a disease like mine before.”

Nyaradzai is a 19-year-old living in my community in Mashonaland, Zimbabwe. She is one of many women suffering from obstetric fistula. 

Like many others, Nyaradzai has been unaware that hers is a condition that needs medical attention. She tells me her story:

“Three years ago, I dropped out of school. I was pregnant. My parents chased me from my home, so I went to stay at my boyfriend’s house. He was still in high school too, but his parents accepted me. I stayed there for six months. 

My baby died while I was in labour. It took me 6 hours to get to the nearest clinic – I was walking because my in-laws couldn’t afford to hire an ambulance to take me there. When I arrived, the nurses ignored me. In fact, they scolded me for getting pregnant at such a tender age. I was 16 at the time. While I was in labor, I passed out. I can’t recall what happened, but when I gained consciousness, I was in so much pain.

When my in-laws heard that I had delivered a stillborn baby, they called me a witch and returned me to my parents’ house. My problems started a few days later.

At first, I thought I just wasn’t making it to the toilet in time, but I was also wetting the bed at night. Now when I go to sleep I take a cloth and place it between my legs and put a plastic sheet underneath me so I won’t wet the bed. I can’t wear underwear because of the sores on my genitals.”

Nyaradzai’s story could be the story of many women living with fistula in Zimbabwe.

Fistula is a silent condition, and as a result many women are suffering in silence. Huge numbers of people are not aware of what it is or what it means for women.

A fistula is a passage or hole that has formed between two organs. Obstetric fistula is an abnormal opening that develops between the birth canal and the urinary tract. It is the primary type of fistula affecting women in developing countries.

Obstetric fistula is caused by lack of access to quality obstetric care, particularly prolonged and obstructed labour without treatment. Young girls can be at high risk, as their birth canals are still narrow. The head of the baby causes a tear between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum which, if not surgically repaired, leaves women incontinent.

2 million women in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Arab region, and Latin America and the Caribbean are living with fistula. 

As Nyaradzai has experienced, the social isolation associated with physical symptoms can have significant mental health consequences. Obstetric fistula is almost entirely preventable, and its prevalence in the world is a sign that health systems are failing women.

I share Nyaradzai’s story today, on International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, to try to break the silence.  

It is important that we talk about fistula, teach communities about it and encourage women to help one another through education, empowerment and delaying marriage and child bearing.

Read more on girlsglobe.org and join the conversation online using #EndFistula.