Fathers’ Sewing ClassNebbi, Northwestern Uganda | For the fathers who choose to learn cloth pad-making
There was not a day in Nebbi that people of Alur tribe did not show us their tradition of warm reception. Whenever we arrived at a village, women and children always rushed out to greet us. One day, as we were again welcomed grandly and dazzled by the bright and colourful costumes of the crowd, to our surprise, we spotted men dancing and waving mango tree branches among them.
At that moment, my companions and I were stunned. We looked at each other with a mix facial expression of confusion and astonishment, attempting to find clues from one another’s faces whether what we saw was real. As a foreigner who was less familiar with Ugandan faces, it normally took me more time to remember and recognise local people. Sometimes I did make mistakes telling their gender. However, all the other people in our team were locals. They would hardly mistake Ugandan women with men. During our stay in Nebbi, it was the very first time that we saw men ushering the guests. In addition, the gathering was for teaching women to make cloth pads. Aside from boys carried by their mothers and sisters, there had never been men attending the training. We supposed that they might be clan leaders or tribal chief who came for greeting the visitors, while it was not a reasonable explanation. If they were elders with certain status in the society, they wouldn’t have to come to the village entrance. Instead, they would wait for us at the village centre. After all the people arrived and settled down on the straw mats, the puzzle was finally solved – these men, four of them, were accompanying their wives to learn pad-making. As we had travelled across numerous villages in East Africa and held trainings for hundreds of times, occasionally men showed up due to their position as patriarchs or pastors. Nevertheless, they never picked up the needles to learn sewing. After all, in local tribal culture, sewing has long been considered as women’s work.
Curious and confused, we decided to invite these men to share what had motivated them to learn pad-sewing. We believed that it would be a wonderful way to encourage men to understand the plight of women as well as to build women’s confidence. “I have daughters. I know one day they will need pads, so I decide to learn pad-making for them.” Harry, the first man that we spotted at the entrance of the village, told us. “I have discussed with my wife. We know that reusable pads will help us saving money for children to attend school, and our girls won’t need to take leaves because of period anymore. We hope all of our children could finish their studies.” Another father, Alfred, expressed.
These husbands supported their wives with action. They envisioned that cloth pads would not just “benefit their wives”. Their children would also be able to study with the money saved from purchasing pads. Regardless of gender, the whole family could grow together. Their words reminded me that in another village nearby, even though none of the men attended, a mama named Abisagi told us that after she discussed and shared with her husband how cloth pads would bring benefits to the family, he gave her full support and encouraged her to learn pad-sewing skills. However, not all the women were lucky enough to be recognised and supported by their husbands. It was also in Abisagi’s village that another mama Roslyn had suffered from domestic violence. She could only rely on herself to take care of the children. She shared with us that mastering pad-making had eased part of her physical and financial burden. Behind each woman we met, there were different life stories. Whatever condition they faced, cloth pads had helped to relive cost-of-living pressures. Altogether we visited 9 villages for pad-sewing training in Nebbi. Sometimes women also pointed out that menstruation used to be an unspeakable taboo, a sign of impurity which was seldom discussed even between mother and daughter. As women started to gather to learn sewing, they found place to share their menstrual experience and support each other. What’s even more precious was our encounter with those fathers and husbands who recognised this project and supported it wholeheartedly. It will never only be women who benefit from cloth pads.
Not everyone can imagine this. In one of the villages we visited, a patriarch asked us, “this project is for women. Do you have other project for men?” He’s not the only one who has this question in mind. Due to the project name “Love Binti”, which means “love girls”, we had also been asked, “this is Love Girls project. How about Love Boys project?” Eventually it was a young man in our team who responded to the patriarch. Actively engaged in this pad-making project, he knew that not only girls would be empowered. The direct help from cloth pads obviously goes to girls who are at risk of dropping out from schools due to a lack of menstrual products. Moreover, the money saved from purchasing menstrual products can be used to pay children’s school fees. At the same time, the heavy financial burden carried by fathers who are the bread winners will be eased. It will surely take time to see the transformation, but cloth pads indeed benefit not just women but the whole family. It even has the power to transform the whole community.
I once visited a village called Iki-iki in eastern Uganda, which had been severely blighted by AIDS. The disease had resulted in around 5 thousand widows and more than 10 thousand orphans. Nevertheless, on the day I arrived, the whole village was immersed in joy and hope. People gathered in a church for celebration, because a young girl in their community had just graduated from university and was about to start her career as an English teacher in a secondary school nearby. Not just her family, the whole community shared her joy, knowing that she would bring positive change to their village. I shared this beautiful story with people in Nebbi. If we could send the girls back to school, maybe one day, the villages in Nebbi would also gleefully celebrate for them. One day, there would be young girls completing tertiary education and coming home to serve their communities. Isn’t it wonderful?
Do you still remember the story of the widow Adele? If the voice of the other half of the population – the half that has long been ignored – could be heard, the world would run in a different way, and people benefited from this change would be more than we could imagine. Similarly, even though the training of pad-making and the Love Binti project seem to focus solely on women, it does not only change the lives of women and girls. The love of Love Binti contains deeper care. It can be the love from husbands to their wives, from parents to children, from villagers to their communities, or even from human to all the others who are in need and suffering. The word “Love Binti” does not only express the love for girls, but it is an even deeper and greater love for humanity.