Stella Nyanzi Vs Janet Museveni; disproving the need for political vulgarity

Following her boorish attack and response to Mrs Museveni, she has earned herself a heroine status from the opposition-leaning populace. 
 Stella Nyanzi versus the First Lady Janet Museveni is one of the many uncalled for fights I had tried not to pen about or indulge self in the hope that veteran journalists and political analysts would best analyse the situation and substantiate it to the satisfaction of the masses. Instead all that I have read is totally in sync with the usual Ugandan analysis. It is just some usual rhetoric, just emotional pandering to side with either party, with some even going further to justify the need for political vulgarity. None, however, has tried to give deeper understanding to the whole situation.

It all started in 2015. While speaking at a campaign rally at Alira Primary School in Akura Sub–county, Alebtong District, Janet Museveni’s husband, President Yoweri Museveni said: “I want all our daughters to attend school and remain there until they complete their studies. One of the reasons that force our daughters out of school is that when their periods start, they do not have sanitary pads. When they are in class, they soil their dresses. So they run away from school.”

He promised to provide sanitary pads. Mr Museveni further said he would provide computers so that ‘children learn modern knowledge’.

“In the schools, we are going to provide more scholastic materials such as textbooks and mathematical sets. We are also proposing to provide exercise books so that parents just buy school uniforms and packed lunch,” he said.
However, Mr. Museveni didn’t disclose or explain how this would be done, when his pledge would be fulfilled and for how long he and his government (once voted into power again) would be providing these sanitary pads to the needy girls.

Following the President’s campaign pledge, social media was awash with Ugandans mocking and trolling him that he was out of ideas and had nothing innovative to offer. One political pundit and activist, Mr. Godber Tumushabe in his tweet dated 15/11/2015 wrote: “#Rwanda & #kenya are offering iPads. @KagutaMuseveni is offering sanitary pads in 2016. #SillySeasonUgandaDecides2016. @BLACKMONDAY_UG.”

Mr. Godber Tumushabe’s tweet

The President wasn’t even spared by fellow presidential candidate Major General Benon Biraaro. “The ruling NRM party presidential candidate, Yoweri Museveni, has run shot of pledges,” the Farmers’ Party presidential candidate Gen. Biraaro, said then. At an impromptu rally in Kamwenge Town, he scoffed at Mr Museveni for pledging to provide Ugandans with hoes and school-going girls with sanitary pads. “I hear Mr Museveni and his NRM have started pledging sanitary pads, hoes and condoms, [but] such pledges cannot transform Ugandans economically,” Biraaro said to applause. 
For the two men who have a big social media following, providing sanitary towels for the needy girls wasn’t in their interest or concern and therefore a ‘silly season’ as Mr. Tumushabe put it.

However, in my opinion, these two gentlemen and other Ugandans who scoffed at the president would never have done so if only they knew what the ordinary wanainchi, who couldn’t fend for themselves, were experiencing.

A team from Oxford University carried out a trial involving 1,000 girls at eight schools in Uganda, providing girls in six schools with sanitary pads, information on menstruation and a combination of both. In the largest trial of its kind, it found absenteeism from school was 17 percent higher among girls who had no access to sanitary towels or information about puberty. “Many girls don’t know about periods before they encounter their first one,” said Paul Montgomery, lead author of the report published in the journal PLOS. They are totally unprepared because they receive no information or training on how to manage them,” he said in a statement.

Menstruation is still taboo in many countries around the world, where it’s often considered embarrassing or shameful. Nearly 200 girls who took part in the trial said they felt more ashamed or insecure during menstruation and around 140 girls said they missed school because of it. Many Ugandan girls drop out of school as they reach their teens, the study said, citing national statistics that show only 22 percent of Ugandan girls are enrolled in secondary education compared with 91 percent in primary schools. Those living in rural areas are least likely to go to school, official figures show.

“Simple interventions like these can have major long-term economic implications for women in low and middle income countries, which socially empowers them,” Montgomery said of the trial. 
According to gender equality campaigners, when 10 percent more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases by an average of 3 percent, while each additional year of secondary schooling leads to a 15–25 percent increase in a girl’s potential income, they say.

Fast-forward to 2017. While appearing before the Parliament’s Education Committee a few weeks ago, Ms Janet Museveni, who is the education minister, revealed that this is not possible for government to provide the pads in the 2017/2018 Financial Year because the ministry does not have money to cater for the President’s pledge.

“I want you all to understand that we have not got the funding for this in our budget yet,” she told the MPs on the committee. She further said that if the government could get the funds, they could fund part of the programme. She further substantiated in one of her interviews with NTV that to efficiently roll out the campaign necessitated quite a number of people on board.

Then in came the feminist and activist Dr. Stella Nyanzi, with a campaign to raise shs. 35million and provide sanitary pads to the needy girls. A very humanitarian, noble and welcoming campaign and cause this was. 
Unfortunately, no long after Ugandans were in for a shocker when Stella Nyanzi took to her Facebook page to lodge a wateringly scornful, insulting and uncouth attack against the Minister of Education. Initially centred on the Minister’s advice against the use of boda bodas to transport young school children, today it has been turned into a Stella Nyanzi vs Janet Museveni fight over the pads campaign and Mr. Museveni’s election pledge.

And this is where my analysis comes into play.

Like my friend Mr. Kimbugwe Muzaphal asserts, if Mrs. Museveni had addressed Ugandans in her capacity as the First Lady, then we would be right to attack her on the premises of the NRM and her husband’s failure to come clean on the campaign promise of providing pads to school children in rural areas and poor communities in Uganda. But then, it is also worth recalling that the President didn’t specify the exact time he would fulfil and honour his pledge.

However, in wanting to hold the regime accountable and in calling the First Lady out for humanitarian reasons, we miss the point if she is actually addressing us as Minister of Education. We need to speak with hindsight; knowing the premises of her powers and duties as a Minister, with the budgetary allocation to her ministry as a backdrop.

So, whereas we invite her to understand our situation, we could also as people of good will invite ourselves to understand leadership and administration better. So, can the First Lady whisper matters of policy to her husband in private? Yes! Can she influence policy direction at party level? Maybe! Question is how much can she influence budgetary allocations? Not much really!

So, what do we want from her? If we want her to peddle influence owing to her closeness to the President, if we want her to use her connections and lobby for support, if we want her to step out of her boundaries and do the impossible, that is not a matter for her office but a matter of her privileged person, which we cannot provoke or command but can only request. 
For example, just as she approached companies and MPs for their support, Dr. Stella Nyanzi could have approached the First Lady for her support and association with this noble cause.

I believe that in taking on any humanitarian cause, it serves one better not to be rebellious and better still if you seek to unite more than you seek to divide. 
It is true that Dr. Stella Nyanzi has donated sanitary pads to more than a thousand students in Mukono District. Stella Nyanzi has given out sanitary pads to over 1000 young girls from 26 schools at reportedly shs.14m.

However, let’s not forget that there are hundreds of thousands of girls out there still in need, and that even the shs. 35m Dr. Stella Nyanzi needs isn’t enough to cover even a quarter of the country. More so, for how many menstrual cycles shall the pads donated by Dr. Nyanzi take each of the beneficiary girls through?

A one-time donation isn’t enough. And just like the Minister of Education stated, this is an exercise that needs quite a chunk of funding and efficient planning.

Indeed, using a best case scenario, each girl would use towels costing about Shs. 15,000. So, if over 200,000 girls are in need of these sanitary pads, then the cost to government translates into about Shs. 3bn per month or Shs. 36bn per year. This analysis is based on the recent statistics as per the ministry of education and sports. Slightly over 600,000 girls in secondary school of these, 295,093 are in government schools. Girls who sat for 2016 in PLE were 258,648 and the numbers keep going up. Meaning over 300,000 are in primary seven today. Most of these have started experiencing menstrual periods and need this help too.

This therefore means that to champion this noble cause, we need to humble ourselves and mobilise each other so as to raise substantial amounts of money. But all this while you like her posts, comment on them and share them, winning that sense of gratification because someone at least got the guts to hurl insults at the regime you apparently abhor shall not help us much.

This noble cause shouldn’t be turned into a political manoeuvre.

That said, this is a cause that indeed requires heavy funding and dedication, one I believe Mrs. Museveni would contribute generously to. 
Meanwhile, as a parting shot, Mr. Goober Tumushabe, let me hope that the events happening in the country now are proof that it was never #SillySeasonUgandaDecides2016.

And to Dr. Stella Nyanzi, thank you for the noble cause. A united Uganda shall ensure that the campaign is a success. Let’s not forget that last year, Hon. Gerald Karuhanga called for tax exemptions on sanitary towels. “This is a proposal [tax exemption on pads] that I am going to bring to Parliament,” said MP Karuhanga.

Also, this year female MPs threatened to block the forthcoming budget if it didn’t cater for sanitary towels. And the good news is that after a lot of public outcry over lack of affordable sanitary pads the Government has scrapped taxes on the pads, a move that will enable female citizens afford the product for the good of their health.

Lastly, an advocate is someone who provides advocacy support to people who need it and advocacy is an activity by an individual or group which aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions.
So, Ugandans should avoid using insults to further advocacy and activism ventures.

An article by Hillary Kururagyire. Debater, Debate Trainer and Debate Adjudicator.
hillarykbainny@gmail.com

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