CHITENJE CHANGA ON SEXUAL REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH
When democracy entered the scene, megaphone in hand and with the strong message of freedom of speech, most of the world celebrated this “freedom” and what it meant for their culture; it certainly led to life-changing movements and changes across the globe. Some of which our generation are only now beginning to enjoy the benefits of. But no one quite specified what this meant especially with certain topics, such as female sexual reproduction health, which are considered taboo in some African cultures.
A strange paradox exists in that different ages have specific rites of passage. A girl starting her period is assigned to have the “talk” with an “auntie” or “elderly woman”, who will give her nuggets of wisdom on how to navigate the new stage in life. The woman getting engaged or married also gets the “talk” about the next stage of their lives as women. And unless you are in a specific age group and are permanently settled at home, you might never get the chance to sit in one of these important, life changing gatherings. Moreover, over a topic like female sexual reproduction health.
“Chitenje Changa” is an icebreaker to starting the conversation about female reproductive health.
To those who might be wondering what it means, a “chitenje” is usually a piece of African print clothing which women wear to all kinds of functions, when carrying out certain duties and as a way of dressing modestly, regardless of what’s underneath.
Although both women and men are familiar with a “Chitenje” and what it symbolizes, yet society does not give women the platform to discuss the experiences beneath the “Chitenje”. Trends like the #MeToo movement are just the tip of the iceberg of conversations or the lack thereof that society needs to start having. It is against this background Theatre For A Change and Blackmore Creatives, with a cultural fund grant from HIVOS, recently organized “Chitenje Changa” monologues which took place in Lilongwe, Malawi.
Performances included actresses from Theatre For A Change who used real life experiences to tell stories of women from various walks of life.
Beatrice Chiphwanya, Theatre For A Change Advocacy and Communications Officer, says “Chitenje Changa” was created to empower women to take charge of their own narrative. In many cases you find men leading the direction of dialogue on issues affecting women when it should be women themselves at the forefront of revolutionizing how society and world at large views and treats women.
The “Chitenje” conceals a woman’s sexual reproductive parts, whilst society does not allow them to openly talk about their challenges – that is the connection between “Chitenje” and reproductive health. Being female in the 21st century has its benefits of freedom of expression, dressing and speech, women now have more say about their own lives. Still, women are not allowed to express themselves openly on issues to do with rape, incest, intimate partner abuse, initiation ceremonies, menstruation, pregnancy, child birth and sex, which center around a woman’s sexual reproductive part and health. According to UNICEF’s 2018 Child Protection statistics in Malawi, 65% of girls experience child abuse in their life time compared to 35% of boys, 46% of girls are married by the age of 18 with 9% by the age of 15; 21.8% girls experience at least one incident of sexual violence before turning 18 compared with 14.8% of boys. Why do such circumstances continue to prevail for our young boys and girls? And why such a high percentage for girls? Does society talk about these issues enough?
“Chitenje Changa” is aimed at breaking the culture of silence, promoting the rights and freedom of expression for women and girls in Malawi.
Theatre For A Change is using performance and film to support women and girls in exploring their bodies and sexuality, thus challenging and transforming accepted ideas around women’s sexual pleasure, rights and abuse.