Battle Over Free Sanitary Pads Lands Ugandan Activist In Jail : Goats and Soda Stella Nyanzi's latest run-in with the regime of President Museveni began with a fight for free sanitary pads for school-age girls. Then she wrote about the president and his wife on social media.

Battle Over Free Sanitary Pads Lands Ugandan Activist In Jail

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One of Uganda's most controversial activists is behind bars. Stella Nyanzi is an anthropologist with a sharp tongue, and she has been charged with harassing the president. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports that it all started with a fight to get poor girls access to sanitary pads.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Last Friday, Stella Nyanzi was put in cuffs at an event promoting the need for sanitary pads because she shamed the government. At least that's according to friend and ally Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera.

KASHA JACQUELINE NABAGESERA: She's the one person who has dared to come out strongly in the country and say what many have feared to say for many, many times.

PERALTA: Nyanzi's story begins during the 2016 presidential campaign, when President Yoweri Museveni and his wife Janet promised to provide free sanitary pads to poor, young girls across the country. But earlier this year, Janet Museveni, a minister in charge of education, told Parliament that the country didn't have enough money to get this done. That infuriated Nyanzi, so she started a fundraising campaign to give those promised pads to poor girls.

And she started furiously posting her message to Facebook.


STELLA NYANZI: Our blood is the seed from which women and men that are powerful have come and yet to tell us that our blood is not important. Blood is sacred. Blood is life.

PERALTA: Nyanzi also went after the government directly. In one of her written posts, she takes on Mama Janet, as Ugandans call the first lady. Nyanzi refused to give her that title because what kind of a mother, she wrote, sends her daughter to school without sanitary pads? She wrote, quote, "what malice plays in the heart of a woman who sleeps with a man who finds money for millions of bullets, billions of bribes and uncountable ballots to stuff into boxes but she cannot ask him to prioritize sanitary pads for poor schoolgirls?"

By the time Nyanzi was ready to drop off a donation of sanitary pads on Janet Museveni's home turf, she was arrested. The government, which is known for cracking down on dissent, charged her for cyber harassment and disturbing the president. But Nabagesera, the activist, says they locked her up because they were ashamed that an anthropologist could care for Uganda's poor better than the government.

Not only that, Kasha Nabagesera says, the government is also well aware of what happened to longtime dictators in North Africa when citizens started speaking truth on social media. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.

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