Loosening The Grip Of FGM

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I read with keen interest Dr. Tabitha Mwangi’s take on FGM  and was happy that someone had started this conversation. I had been following the recent reports about the continued practice of FGM by some obstinate communities. I hope by keeping the conversation going, we can do something, however little, to end this barbaric practice.

I believe that the only pain that a woman should have to go through, the only pain that she has to endure, with justification, is child birth. This excruciating pain (VERY excruciating pain, if my own birthing experience is anything to go by) should in fact be atonement for everything else we get away with. But that is just me.

It is shocking that there are girls who have more than the requisite childbirth pain inflicted upon them. In this day and age! Even more shocking is the fact that some women felt the need to hold demonstrations to demand to be allowed to practice FGM without interference. We should be outraged.

I am outraged!

Was the twig-wielding crowd that barricaded the streets an indication that FGM is back in full force? Wait, did it ever leave us to begin with?

As one administrative officer who was interviewed by Citizen TV for the segment “The Elite Cut’ stated, your neighbor’s daughter could be writhing in pain and hemorrhaging  from being ‘cut’ and you would know nothing about it. Sad that we’ve come a long way as a ‘civilized’ people but FGM still has a firm grip on us.

I was disappointed by the women demanding to practice FGM since they are the same people who should be protecting their daughters from harmful cultural practices. They should be teaching them to set their sights high. They should be steering them towards a good education and if they choose to get married, they should encourage them to find a man who will fall in love with their person and not with their (cut) genitals.

Citizen TV in their feature touched on the difficulties faced in ending FGM, one being the fact that some teachers were pro-FGM and had even undergone the cut themselves. This posed a challenge when it came to educating the girls against the vice.

Do we all understand how sick FGM really is? You and I have the knowledge and all the information we need to know about it.  We read about it, Google being our friend and all. We could say we understand it. How about the girl who grows up in the midst of circumcised women? How can she be convinced that cutting is an injustice to her when her female teachers are circumcised? Their mothers?  Their sisters?  These are her role models. She wants to grow up to be like her teacher. And her teacher is circumcised!

That young Pokot girl witnesses the jeers and insults thrown at uncircumcised girls and grows up wanting to be circumcised in order to dodge the insults. Asking her not to get circumcised is asking her to rebel against her parents and her community at large. These are people she has to live with. Asking her not to be circumcised is asking her to betray the people she loves the most. It is asking her to ‘rob’ her parents off their entitled wealth from her bride price. What happens to her when she will not be touched by a midwife during delivery because she is deemed unclean? All these considered, doesn’t going through the cut provide an easier option for her? The pain will be numbing, but at least it will heal. If she survives. All she wants is to belong. Thus, FGM tightens its grip on that young girl.

Circumcised, she will be accepted, loved and respected by her people. She therefore believes that circumcision is actually good for her. How do we end FGM without alienating the women from these communities?

The same people who could be helping us end this practice are the stumbling blocks; there are the circumcisers who’s source of livelihood is threatened should FGM be eliminated. There are the girls’ parents who feel cheated out of fetching a hefty bride price by marrying off their ‘pricey’ circumcised girls. There are the men who believe that we are out to make their ‘ideal’ woman extinct.

Then there are the women who have undergone FGM. They were made to believe that this process made them special, a cut above the rest. Are we telling these women that their painful experience was all for naught? Are we now saying that they are not ‘superior’ to the uncircumcised ‘child’ who has not faced the knife? Are you putting her in the same caliber as the inferior, unclean ‘gesagane’ (as the Kisii call their uncircumcised girls)?

One gentleman who was interviewed by Citizen TV confessed that “Hii kimila imekorogwa kama simiti na ni ngumu kuimaliza.” To mean that the tradition is ingrained so deep among its people that ending it would be an uphill task.

How then do we loosen the grip that FGM has on these communities? Do we put the parents who defy the law behind bars and in the process leave the same girls in a worse situation with no one to take care of them? Do we sit back and wait for these communities to finally evolve and change their perception about this practice as lives continue being lost?

Until these communities stop viewing their girls as a source of wealth to be auctioned out like cows to the highest bidder; until we reach out to that young girl and thwart the naive enthusiasm with which she views circumcision; until every voice (Male and female Politicians, Church leaders, chiefs, teachers) speak out against FGM, and until a safe haven is created where girls can report any plans of forceful cutting, the grip that FGM has on these communities will still remain firm and tight.

The worst thing we can do is assume that with a law against FGM in place, we have it under control. We don’t!

Let’s talk about it in our schools. Let’s talk about it during PTA meetings. Heck, let’s ingrain it in our syllabus if we have to. Let’s talk to the women who have gone through FGM and show the world how FGM wrecks lives. How it kills mothers in the delivery room. How it gives us stillborn babies. Let’s talk to our elders who hold their culture close to their hearts and reach a compromise; maybe have the initiation ceremony to transition from childhood to adulthood, while excluding the surgical aspect of it.

Above all else, we need to make everyone understand that our girls do not need fixing. That they are perfect just the way they are.

 

 

First published on Storymoja Festival blog

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