“When you name something, it comes into existence – did you know that? There is strength there, bone-white power injected in a rush, like a trembling drug,” – Akwaeke Emezi, Freshwater.
Imagine menstruating and being ostracized singularly for that reason. Imagine being banished to a menstrual hut outside your house made from weak materials and barely able to stand against weather conditions. Imagine being so cold because of that and having to create fires to warm yourself up. Then, imagine dying from asphyxiation because you inhaled too much smoke from the fire you prepared to keep warm.
This Chhaupadi huts are real in Nepal, and although they have been legally outlawed, the practice still persists in many rural communities.
Why? Because menstruation cannot simply be menstruation. According to tradition, culture and religion, it is impure and periods come with a curse.
Imagine the sheer force that is required for copulation between a fully grown man and an 11 year old girl child. This child, her body and mind not matured enough to handle this, can bleed to death during sex. If that does not happen, what about the rigors that her body will experience during labor?
“Many girls aged 11-15 in Nigeria become mothers either after early marriage to older men or through accidental pregnancy as a result of sexual intercourse with their peers. Their small pelvic sizes cause most of these young girls to experience obstructed labor. Unskilled birth attendants simply cut through the vagina to create passage for the baby which then results in Vestico Vagina Fistula (VVF), the leakage of urine and feces through the vagina,” – Fayoyin A. on ‘The menace of VVF in Nigeria’.
Why? Because instead of calling this what it is – rape, which subsequently can lead to death – we call it marriage, as if an 11 year old is an adult equipped enough to make such a life decision.
I came across a post on Mirabel Centre’s page, where a man raped a 5 year old girl and it was reported as “sex romp” by a reporter. The Urban Dictionary defines sex romp as “the pleasurable act of pleasurably seducing, playing and…” A 5 year old. Forced sexual interaction. Anything but pleasurable and certainly not bearing any resemblance to seduction.
Time and time again, we have created made-up words to desensitize people from the very raw and real effects that are a direct result of these situations. Which begs the questions; who are we protecting? Whose humanity are we trying to bring to bear? Rape is not another sexual experience, but in the subtle and obvious ways, the world gives a long rope to the perpetrator.
Call a thing by its name. Human and Women’s right violations should not be cushioned with the blanket “culture and tradition” or propped up with the stand of “that is how it has always been done.”
Marriage is not marriage, if one of the two parties involved is not even equipped to make the decision for self. Rape is rape; it is lazy, and disingenuous to call it anything but that.
Protect the survivors. Center their humanity.