There are various reasons which lead a person to have the conviction to bleach their skin, but a lot of debate is now raging on after the Rwandan government decided to crack down on skin bleaching products. Many women in Africa believe having lighter skin enhances their beauty, and because of this these products sell profitably in Africa.
When a government intervenes in the trade of skin lightening products, do they do it having that right? Or it is a matter of doing it arbitrarily? Rwanda's president announced that the national health ministry and the police would work together to rein in skin bleaching products; and the joint task force assigned to this effect immediately sprang into action.
Some were happy, but for others it was far from it. The main points of conversation being whether bleaching is a crime, whether government should focus on other pressing issues or whether it is right for the government to protect citizens from the detrimental effects of using skin bleaching products.
Rwanda is not the first country to put laws strictly restricting the trade of these products, as some of these products are smuggled into the country. Countries such as Ghana and South Africa have moved to ban skin lightening products that contain the harmful chemical hydroquinone.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 4 out of every 10 women in Africa bleach their skin. The unregulated nature of the skin lightening industry makes it an extremely multi-billion dollar industry.
There could be some legitimate traders who could be affected by Kagame's move, which appeared sudden, and creates the risk of authorities acting in an over-enthusiastic manner. A teacher in Rwanda, Brian Niwenshuti, remarked on this, saying "Of course, society frowns on people who are not comfortable in their own skin. But bleaching is not a crime. A sudden directive by the president often results in overzealous action by the authorities. This might harm traders and buyers of even legitimate products."
Perhaps skin bleaching is just a subjective matter in which the government lacks the prerogative to intervene. Perhaps the government should be focusing on other serious matters that require their urgent attention. But pharmacist Brice Hirwa argued that the government is right as it is protecting people from the harmful effects of these products. To him, the youth are the biggest victims of this phenomenon and therefore the government has to step in.
"The first effect is that bleaching weakens the skin, making it easier for one to get cancer and other diseases because the skin is no longer capable of providing protection," said Hirwa. "And then it is difficult to restore the skin to its original complexion. I don't even think that is possible."
"Tackle more real issues like youth empowerment," wrote a Facebook user on the DW page when they asked about this matter.
National police spokesman John Bosco Kabera is determined to make it a success that no Rwandan lays their hands on these products.
"Ministerial instruction No. 20 of 2016 determines the use of prohibited cosmetics in Rwanda. It lists about 1,343 cosmetics. The operation will be combined with a campaign across the country for people to understand the dangers associated with the use of these cosmetics," Kabera said.
Is there any infringements of rights according to the police? To Kabera, there isn't any infringement going on here.
Header image credit: Africanews