By Maziko Matemvu
Could there really be a fault in our vaginas? I asked myself that evening as I sat on the veranda . I had just finished being reprimanded by my Mother and her sister in law for my Facebook post, which featured the word “Vagina”. Throughout the balls of fire that spat out of Her mouth, “You are a disgrace!” “You have brought shame to the family!” “You are stupid!” “White people are brainwashing you to push for their agenda!”. I asked myself could there be a fault in our vaginas? A malfunction so big, the mention of its name sparks so much anger? During Her violent waves of anger, I still insisted that vagina was not a bad word, and that women and girls should be empowered enough to call their vaginas what they are.
Censoring an anatomical word like vagina causes young girls and women to feel ashamed and ceases ownership of their bodies. It also reinforces stigmas and the idea that there is something wrong with their bodies. And that their vaginas wreak of so much shame with a stench that can only be diffused by be addressing vaginas, by a different name or not mentioning it at all.
When I was in standard 6, I was surprised the word Betete did not come up during the Biology class. I flipped through the big Biology textbook. I saw the body anatomy diagram and ran my finger through the labels of body parts, but nothing. No Betete.
My mom called my vagina Betete. I heard other names, as I grew older. “Where the sun don’t shine” “Biscuits” “Flowers” “Coochie” . I am not in standard 6 anymore, but I often think of the implications giving vaginas cutesy nicknames has. If I were sexually assaulted then, would the courts recognize the violations of my rights and body with Betete in my testimony?
During my fieldwork in Nsalu village, I asked the young girls there what they called their vaginas, they said ;“Kolowa kwa abambo” ndi “Kokodzela”
In Malawi, the translation for Vagina in Chichewa, our language, is Nyini, but saying it often causes a commotion and stirs a whirlwind of unwarranted debates on the morality of the Nyini protagonist. In 2015, a renowned activist in Malawi was arrested for carrying a placard that read; Nyini yanga, My pussy my pride”. Translated as; My vagina, My pussy My pride. Duty bearers quoted the constitution and said the placard was offensive and undignified the modesty of a woman.
The fault with our vaginas
“Kolowa kwa abambo” translated as “Where the man enters”. This terminology is clearly a patriarchal one. It robs the ownership of women’s vaginas and reduces them to mere objects that exist sorely for the appeasement of a man’s penis .It also dismisses self-pleasure.
The term “kokodzela” which translates as “What you use for urinating” limits the vagina to the functions of urination. It fails to embody the versatility of vaginas.
The crucial rhetoric that we must refuse to normalized is the archaic and sexist presentations of our vaginas . A woman’s vagina is not a man’s passage nor is it only a urinal passage. It is a passage, I suppose, for several things. For vaginal discharge, for blood, for blood clot, for fingers, for sex toys, for penises, for urine and much more. Using the terms “Kolowa kwa abambo” and “kokodzela” are not only patriarchal but inappropriate. The justice our vaginas need in Chichewa is Nyini.
The state, religion and culture have pried our legs open, robbed our vaginas, and replaced them with conservatism and repressive ideologies that threaten bodily autonomy.
For a very long time now, women’s bodies have been a contested political ground subjected to Male validation. Society is not offended that women are using vagina- the right medical and anatomy terminology. Society is offended at the audacity that women have, to reclaim their bodies whilst stomping on eggshells.
We must continue to denounce regressive technical norms that are deeply institutionalized and structured in the patriarchy by calling our vaginas what they are, and challenge and deconstruct systems that tell us otherwise. So here today, you make a vagina vow, to say it, with your chest and with all your might -.Vagina. Nyini, or whatever Vagina REALLY means in your native language. SAY IT! and empower young women and girls to say it too, because the fault is not in our vaginas.