NAIROBI, Dec 8 – December is here and for many households in Kenya, it is the season for feast after feast. Coinciding with the harvest season, food is in plenty and traditional brewers are set for the ‘celebration season’.
For many boys whose age has attained a double digit, their D-Day to manhood beckons. For the girls, it is most certainly nightmarish as they too face the cut. They have been made to believe that for them to get husbands they must go through this painful and demeaning experience. What a paradox, this is probably the only crime that is celebrated.
For the boys it is a one-time affair, a minor cut and nothing short of just the necessary is removed. However, for the girls it is a contrary story. The organ is mutilated and the pain rages on into motherhood.
Although 20 years have passed, the events of that day are fresh in her mind. How could she forget an experience that has brought her both physical and psychological pain continuously for two decades? She has vindicated her parents since theirs was an action of ignorance and blind compliance with culture.
Her memory is, however, refreshed every month.
“I usually have unbearable abdominal pain during my menstrual period. Sometime I don’t go to work for seven days; I just lie down and vomit. My appetite disappears,” she says.
At the age of five Deka Hassan went through the archaic female genital mutilation (FGM) which her community has spiritualised. Her sister enticed her with ‘Mabuyu,’ a local fruit which she loved. It took about 15 minutes but the unbearable pain is unforgettable.
“I kept on asking the cutter if she had finished. When she finally said it was over I said ‘alhamdullilahi, alhamdullilahi, alhamdullilahi (thank God), and is asked her to pour cold water on me,” Ms Hassan clearly remembers.
Consummating her marriage and the subsequent child birth were her worst fears but she chooses to brush this aside. The men who push for this painful dehumanizing experience all in the name of culture, definitely don’t have an idea of how it feels.
Ms Hassan’s story is similar to that of over 130 million global cases that have left many women suffering and living in embarrassment – a quarter of who are in the sub-Saharan Africa.
Statistics show that all but five of the over 40 tribes in the country practice the cut either openly or secretly. The culture is more prevalent in Northern Kenya, Kisiiland, parts of the Rift Valley, Coast and Eastern provinces. Shocking revelations show that some communities in the Coast cut children as young as a week old.
Surprisingly the practice is on the rise in parts of Central province (partly blamed on the adherents of the Mungiki sect). More interesting it is even done in the city estates. What is worrying is that even the educated men in practising communities refuse to marry the uncut.
The fight against this inhuman practice has remained elusive. Chauvinists have frustrated the course of activists and even linked the ‘ritual’ to the Islamic religion. Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome, a clergy and lawyer however refutes that this is an Islamic ritual.
“They have come up with very unauthentic bases linking it to Prophet Mohammed but when you go deep you find that it is just their own creation or their way of interpreting things,” he notes.
Judith Kunyiha of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says although the preference has gradually reduced, the practice continues to evolve every other day. In parts of Kisiil and and the Rift Valley the practice has now been medicalised and qualified nurses are cashing in on it.
“You try one way and people get to know about it so you start to see the loop holes. We have to be very innovative and foresee issues and address them before they arise,” Ms Kunyiha notes, adding that to counter new tactics partnerships would be inevitable.
The UNFPA’s National Programme Officer says the coming on board of religious leaders is a key pillar in the fight. She nevertheless adds that the media, educationists, Parliament and the civil society are other crucial partnerships in the fight against FGM.
Efforts to classify the act under the more punitive Sexual Offences Bill were frustrated in Parliament further complicating the matter.
Victims of the practice can however seek redemption through the Penal Code or the Children’s Act. However many of them have no idea of the existence of these laws. Sheikh Lethome says more awareness on the acts is necessary. There is also pressure to review the Children’s Act to include more punitive measures.
Although the provincial administration is supposed to ensure the security and preserve the welfare of the citizens some of the administrators are often overwhelmed by the cultural hardliners.
As the fight rages on activists have now resulted to dialoguing with various community leaders and the Muslim clergy to convince them to abandon the practice.
Ms Hassan has accepted her pain and vowed to fight the practice begging it form her home district in line with the old adage that Charity begins at Home but in a community where women are never listened to, it is obviously a tall order. She is calling for support from learned colleagues in the fight.
And her parting shot: “This is an organ which God has created and removing it is tampering with his creation.”