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A Polish woman helps women in East Africa.  “Women here often choose between sex and survival”

A Polish woman helps women in East Africa. “Women here often choose between sex and survival”

The second edition of the “Victoria Rally” is underway. Maja Kotala and her volunteers travel across East Africa to fight menstrual poverty and conduct sex education workshops. – Women here often choose between sex and survival. They are taught from an early age how to make money with their bodies. The girls are 10 years old when they undergo initiation and their mothers teach them how to earn money by selling themselves, she says.

On March 13, Maja Kotala, a fashion designer from Chorzów, set off with the “Victoria Rally” on a journey through East Africa to help local women. Through sewing workshops in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique, Polka wants to increase the local people’s chance to earn their own money and become financially independent. In addition, she conducts educational meetings related to sexuality among women and fights against menstrual poverty by sewing disposable sanitary pads. During these meetings during the first month of the rally, she listened to the stories of women who moved her deeply.

“Girls wish for the life they see on Instagram”

The first stop of the rally was Tanzania. In a small town near Dar es Salaam, Maja Kotala conducted workshops on hand sewing reusable sanitary pads and sewing on a machine. She also met with women to talk about sex education.

– At the end of the second day, we were left in a small group of a few women. Even though neither I spoke Swahili nor they spoke English, we had a translator who helped us communicate, she says. In conversations with Tanzanians, the following topics were discussed: the topic of having many children. Women admitted that there is a sad truth behind deciding to have numerous offspring.

– People wonder why African women give birth to so many children. Of course, one of the theories is that they later take care of their parents. The sad truth also came to light that when children die, and this happens very often, women decide to have another one to numb the pain and suffering after the loss. This moved us very much, says the Pole.

Maja Kotala travels through East Africa with the ‘Victoria Rally’ Sewing Together

On the next stage of the journey, Maja Kotala and her volunteers stopped in Malawi. As she admitted, there you could feel the enormous power of women who strive for independence from men. Unfortunately, the situation in the country is not favorable for them. – There are not so many development opportunities in Malawi. We interviewed two women there – Cliffo and Lincy. Cliffo is 52 years old, Lincy is 21. When asked what they think about each other, Lincy said that there is great respect for elders and that the younger generation appreciates these women for their strength to survive and the willingness to fight for themselves, because young women lack such determination – she recalls Have.

The 52-year-old had a different view on this issue. Cliffo said young people listen less and less to the wisdom imparted by their elders. – She claimed that she was most afraid of young people, because with general access to the Internet and browsing Instagram, “they lose their minds.” That girls wish for the life they see in roller skates and in photos, and at the same time they do not realize that this reality is created – says the Pole. Cliffo also mentioned in the conversation that young women demand money from their parents and grandparents for branded clothes, and if they don’t get it, they want to get it through relationships with men.

– Very often young girls go out and get pregnant. They hope that a man will provide them with the good Instagram life. This often doesn’t happen because men are aware that they can use and leave these women, she says.

On the other hand, the Polish woman points out that it is difficult for local women to find a job because working women experience stigmatization. – Women who run their own businesses are perceived as prostitutes. Their role in society is to bear children. If they do not decide to become mothers, they are perceived as “the bad ones”. The rule is that if you don’t want to have children, you shouldn’t have a husband either, she explains.

“Women often choose between sex and survival”

Currently, Maja Kotala is in Mozambique. As he notes, in the village where the workshops are held, human trafficking, prostitution and drugs are a huge problem. – Here, women often choose between sex and survival. They are taught from an early age how to make money with their bodies. Girls are 10 years old when they are initiated and their mothers teach them how to make money by selling themselves. There is no love, no relationships. Women compete with each other for men because men often jump from flower to flower, leaving them a few pennies after each sexual intercourse, she says.

Maja Kotala helps women in East AfricaMaja Kotala helps women in East Africa Sewing Together

He also adds that the locals very often refuse to use protection during intercourse. Therefore, the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy increases. – They argue that it doesn’t give them any pleasure. Women’s stories show that when they expect to wear a condom, they do not receive money for sex. The situation there is really very difficult, they don’t know any other life. This leads to situations where they mutilate and modify their bodies to give men as much pleasure as possible. In some parts of Mozambique, women pull their labia up to mid-thigh because they believe it gives them more pleasure, he says. He points out that Mozambique is a place where life “revolves around men, and women do not believe in themselves at all.”

The Victoria Rally aims to educate and improve the situation of women

This is the second edition of the “Victoria Rally”. Last year, Maja and her volunteers met 860 women. Despite the difficulties he experiences during his journey, he does not give up. She continues to educate and continue to fight against period poverty. As she emphasizes, period poverty in African countries has two dimensions. Firstly, many women cannot afford to buy sanitary pads, and secondly, there are simply no such pads available.

Maja Kotala during the 'Victoria Rally'Maja Kotala during the ‘Victoria Rally’ Sewing Together

– We’ve already covered a lot of kilometers. We have helped over 400 people. This trip gives you a lot to think about. Learning about women’s stories gives you the strength to act. When I see that despite their scars, they still have the strength to meet us and try to break out of this pattern, I feel that it is worth taking action. I am aware that I may not change their lives, but at least I will bring relief. A woman who couldn’t afford sanitary pads before will no longer have to give up her body to ensure comfort during menstruation. If you think that you’ve given a person at least one day of peace a month, it’s a huge motivation to keep going, he says.

Periods significantly impact the social and economic lives of women around the world. Last year, we organized the “Period in My Life” campaign, the aim of which was to “disembarrass” the topic of menstruation. This time, joins the fight against period poverty as the media patron of the 2nd edition of the “Victoria Rally”.

Source: Gazeta

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