One of the phrases that has become a part of popular culture in the past few years is: “Stay out of women’s business.”
This phrase has been used on social media by women when discussing issues such as menstrual health, but what this does in reality is exclude transgender men (people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) and non-binary (people who do not identify as women or men) but get their period.
*Sipho was one of the transgender men who were speaking out about these exclusionary practices at the Africa Coalition Symposium on Menstrual Health held by the The African Coalition on Menstrual Health Management and the United Nations Fund for Population (UNFPA) leading up to Menstrual Hygiene Day which is marked today.
“I realised I was transgender when I was in high school at the age of 16,” he told Sowetan.
He said the exclusion of transgender men from the menstrual health conversation is often traumatising and can be experienced as hate speech.
“It can trigger some individuals, cause depression, anxiety and discomfort. It also challenges one’s gender identity as one does not identify as a cisgender [people who identify with their birth sex] but as a trans and non-binary individual,” said Sipho.
Often facing harassment in public spaces such as bathrooms, Sipho wants to see more gender neutral bathrooms to allow transgender people to not feel excluded and to protect them from harassment and violence.
“Frequent harassment, public ridicule and ongoing isolation from family fuels anxiety and suicidal tendencies,” he said.
Exclusion from society leads to homelessness, unemployment, a lack of medical care, depression and unemployment.
“The fear of being openly transgender makes it difficult to find a job and discourages transgender victims of crime from going to the police. Unemployment leads to more homelessness and with it, danger of sexual assault on the streets.”
Sipho said that the prioritisation of medical care such as gender-affirming surgery will allow for transgender men to experience gender euphoria.
“Include transgender and non-binary studies in/with medical practitioners to aid in the better assistance of transgender and non-binary medical and menstrual health and prioritise bottom surgeries for transgender men,” he said.
“Transgender persons face stigma and discrimination every now and then. We hope that in the next two years the general population will learn even more about transgender persons and they will also be open to speak to, educate and employ transgender persons without questioning them,” he said.
Human Rights Organisation Access Chapter 2, which promotes and protects the rights of women and LGBTI people, said in a statement that transgender men face frightening levels of violence.
“Transgender men face enormous health disparities, including staggering rates of HIV infection, lack of primary care, including individualised, medically necessary transition-related healthcare and high rates of attempted suicide.”
It also provides safe spaces for transgender people to speak about their experiences and possible solutions as well as help them receive the necessary medical and psychological interventions.
UNFPA regional communication adviser Daisy Diamante Leoncio said access to menstrual health rights for all people who menstruate remains an issue in Africa.
“Menstrual health is a human right and a matter of dignity and it remains a silent issue in Africa.
Girls, women, and other people who menstruate access to menstrual health is negatively influenced by social norms, limited access to age appropriate information, unavailability of affordable sanitary products, and limited quality of water and sanitation facilities, as well as health services.
“At a minimum, governments must ensure that menstruating women and girls have access to sanitary and menstrual products at all times.”