Thursday, 2 July 2015

Thousands of girls in Tanzania still undergoing genital Mutilation

In most cultures, getting your first period signifies the transition from girlhood into womanhood. Other perceptions suggest this happens when a girl loses her virginity.

Others still, will say that a woman only becomes her full self when she gives birth.

But for the girls in Tanzania, they become a woman when they have their genitals mutilated.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is not legal on the African continent, so why is it still so rife? It seems that governments cannot control what happens in many tribes, or simply turn a blind eye when this law conflicts with cultural beliefs.

In Tanzania, FGM is not only about FGM. Other factors come into play whenever the ceremonial act of ‘cutting’ is performed. The following are some of the reasons why FGM still persists:

1. Coming of age

Much like 21st birthday celebrations, the Tanzanians perform a ceremony when a girl is of age (between 8 and 15). This annual ritual, complete with feasting and dancing, is where children are chosen, dressed up, anointed, given gifts, paraded and bestowed their final honour: genital cutting.

2. Honour

It’s a rite of passage and one that girls need to pass through to be able to be married, perform certain cultural acts and be seen as a woman or member of their tribe.

3. Child marriage

FGM and child marriage is completely normal for many Tanzanians, and seen as a great honour and duty. As barbaric as it is, arrangements  are made between parents and tribes as commonplace as it is for us to wear diamond engagement rings. Parents don’t view this as a human rights abuse, and offer their children up for the cutting because they want them to be eligible – often at an age most Westerners aren’t even legally allowed to consent to sex.

4. Money

Elders and those who perform the cuttings are getting paid. Many of them have no other skills and will be out of work if FGM was stopped.

5. Oppression

Women are not seen as equals and are not sent to school. They are forced into early child marriage, often uneducated, and many turn to selling their bodies to earn a living and end up contracting HIV and Aids. An uneducated life perpetuates the cycle of oppression, and generation after generation of girls and women are lost. Being no more than tools for breeding and service is what women and girls need.

Risks and Dangers of FGM

Unhygienic cuttings for both girls and boys pose many risks, including the spreading of HIV/Aids, the use of blunt unsterile instruments which cause infection and sepsis, insufficient aftercare, and the possibility of bleeding to death.

How this affects us

Inequality and gender based violence is a global problem. In ending a form of abuse, in this case child abuse, there has to be awareness first. Awareness can lead to empowering more groups to stand against any form of gender based violence in any way that they can.

A ripple effect is moving all around the globe – one where men and women are fighting for gender equality. From the writers trying to shed light on the subject, to the many doctors and volunteers working FGM, we are all part of the same army. An educated woman is a powerful tool and agent for change in this perception worldwide. All forms of gender based violence and oppression need to be exposed, no matter how far removed from our own lives.


Saturday, 27 June 2015

A mutilation cannot be considered a cultural act

In order to effectively fight female genital mutilation, one has to have sufficient knowledge about it. I talk about “mutilation” because it is an organ that is cut not for medical reasons but for social and cultural reasons.

It is a shameful practice, because a mutilation cannot be considered a cultural act.
In Africa, we cannot fight the practice only by invoking the health risks or legal arguments. It has to be attacked on a cultural level. We have to present cultural counter-arguments. We should tell the African women that we must fight these murderous practices, because they have nothing to do with the true African culture.
It has to be remembered that in the Middle Ages in Europe there used to be the chastity belt and women bound their breasts so that they would look like boys. Of course, this is not done anymore. We have to fight anything that has no basis in reason. The religious argument does not hold water either. The aesthetic argument has no value and in the final analysis, a woman should be free to enjoy her body.
The only way to fight the practice in societies where people cannot read or write - what is the point of telling them about infection and
haemorrhaging? - is to present cultural counter-arguments.

 We should not forget pride and Honour

In Kenya recently, there was a young woman of 21 whose mother had not been excised. To please her husband since her in-laws did not like the fact that she had not undergone the procedure, this girl performed an excision on herself with a razor blade. If one examines cultural practices such as FGM and the status of women, one will realize that women are the pillars of their families and of society. In Africa, it is said that behind every strong man there is a stronger woman. To understand excision in the African culture, one has to take into account all these cultural aspects.

Migrant women are often caught between the culture of their country of origin and the culture of their country of destination

 Communities have been uprooted and displaced to other countries. Those who migrate voluntarily - legally or illegally – do so because they believe they will be able to lead a better life in their new country.
Therefore, it is very important to deal with FGM within the context of migration. The problems of excision and other traditional practices which negatively affect migrant women and children are exacerbated due to the displacement of these populations. FGM is condemned by most of the governments of the countries involved, which are both countries of origin and countries of destination. FGM remains an ongoing practice in many countries of the world. It is a destructive practice, although it is often considered as the norm by many women and girls among these migrating communities. We need to target these communities if we want to find a solution to the problem.
The role of the family is crucial in having these women adapt to the customs of their new country of residence. Mutilations drain women’s energy and the resources that they could use to learn the language of their new country, look for work and send their children to school. FGM can be an obstacle to social integration for these migrant women. This is one of the reasons why fighting FGM is a priority and yet another reason to combat this practice. Even for young girls born or raised in Europe – where prevalence is fairly high – excision is considered as a right of passage and not subjecting oneself to this procedure may destroy interfamilial links.

Literacy campaigns, sending children to school, mastering the language, having access to the economy, so as to have necessary financial resources ,all of these social determinants need to be taken into account to fight this problem, so that migrant women are in a better position to shoulder their responsibilities and combat the problem. Only if women become empowered and autonomous will the message be heard and have a positive effect.

Women who come from migrant communities need to know where to turn if they need assistance for themselves and their families in terms of health care and other forms of assistance. All of this needs to be part of an integration policy, not only in the country of destination but also in the countries of origin.

The principal actors are the women themselves.They are the main target group because they are both the guardians and the victims of this practice.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Why is female genital mutilation still practiced?

There are several reasons provided to justify the practice of female genital mutilation:

  • Control over women’s sexuality: Virginity is a pre-requisite for marriage and is equated to female honour in a lot of communities. FGM, in particular infibulation, is defended in this context as it is assumed to reduce a woman’s sexual desire and lessen temptations to have extramarital sex thereby preserving a girl’s virginity.
  • Hygiene: There is a belief that female genitalia are unsightly and dirty. In some FGM-practicing societies, unmutilated women are regarded as unclean and are not allowed to handle food and water.
  • Gender based factors: FGM is often deemed necessary in order for a girl to be considered a complete woman, and the practice marks the divergence of the sexes in terms of their future roles in life and marriage. The removal of the clitoris and labia — viewed by some as the “male parts” of a woman’s body — is thought to enhance the girl’s femininity, often synonymous with docility and obedience. It is possible that the trauma of mutilation may have this effect on a girl’s personality. If mutilation is part of an initiation rite, then it is accompanied by explicit teaching about the woman’s role in her society.
  • Cultural identity: In certain communities, where mutilation is carried out as part of the initiation into adulthood, FGM defines who belongs to the community. In such communities, a girl cannot be considered an adult in a FGM-practicing society unless she has undergone FGM.
  • Religion: FGM predates Islam and is not practiced by the majority of Muslims, but it has acquired a religious dimension. Where it is practiced by Muslims, religion is frequently cited as a reason. Many of those who oppose mutilation deny that there is any link between the practice and religion, but Islamic leaders are not unanimous on the subject. Although predominant among Muslims, FGM also occurs among Christians, animists and Jews. 

It sounds like an obvious thing to say but let’s remember in our fight to end this practice we should try and understand diverse tribes and what they stand for. With the rise of  globalisation it is important to remember that FGM is no longer prevalent in Africa, Asia or the so obvious places as before. Some women born and bred in the western countries now have to undergo FGM in order to please boyfriends, lovers or husbands. We should all be fighting this practise.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Female genital mutilation: a curse on women


Despite decades of activists trying to curb the practice and dozens of laws banning it, the horrific procedure of cutting or removing babies' and girls' external genitalia continues.

According to an exhaustive new report from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), more than 125 million girls and women in 29 countries have undergone female genital mutilation.

The reasons are varied. It will stop girls from being promiscuous and preserve their virginity, proponents say. It's socially expected; it's tradition; it's religious.

But it's also incredibly dangerous and painful, and most of the girls and women who experience it want it to stop.

The practice occurs mostly in African and Middle Eastern countries. Women, and men too, say they subject their daughters to it because they will be socially ostracized if they don't.

It would be easy to blame parents, but that would be ignoring the complexities of the issue. The practice is tied to everything from tradition to patriarchy, and that's part of the reason attempts to stop it have been only marginally successful.

Way forward

Tougher laws

There are laws against female genital mutilation in most African nations, but the practice continues, because the laws don't address the social and cultural reasons for committing the act in the first place.

If individuals continue to see others cutting their daughters and continue to believe that others expect them to cut their own daughters, the law may not serve as a strong enough deterrent to stop the practice.

Conversely, among groups that have abandoned [female genital mutilation and cutting], legislation can serve as a tool to strengthen the legitimacy of their actions and as an argument for convincing others to do the same.

 Ending social ostracism

Many of the countries where cutting occurs are predominantly Muslim, but it would be wrong to say the religion is somehow at fault. There are Muslims around the world who abhors the practice, and it is often linked to other ethnic and social traditions unique to different regions. According to the UN, organizations that have encouraged people to abandon the practice "not as a criticism of local culture but as a better way to attain the core positive values that underlie tradition and religion, including 'doing no harm to others'" have had some luck in limiting the procedure.

Efforts to end female genital mutilation contribute to the larger issues of ending violence against children and women and confronting gender inequalities.

Let’s face it, the issue of FGM centres on gender imbalance.

Organizations working to end FGM need to let women know about specific imams, for example, who have disavowed the practice, so they don't see it as something absolutely required by their religion.

There is also need to talk about the health consequences especially mentally after the cutting which most cut women carry until they die. 

Unfortunately without awareness of the dangers of FGM "women feel very strongly that they have to cut, that it is a religious obligation and convincing women to abandon a practice they see as so intrinsic to womanhood in cultures that value girls as wives and mothers above all else is complicated.


Women in FGM practising communities’ are not given the same political or educational opportunities as men. They hold very little power, and even when they want to end the cycle of mutilation, they face the prospect of being cast out if they resist. Some women fear that if they do not have their girls cut, they will be "unsuitable" for marriage, which would doom them to a life of ostracism and poverty in many places.

Without education or means to support themselves, women are stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty and oppression.

Education could draw women into the labor market, which could weaken traditional family structures. Women might be seen as desirable partners for their ability to contribute to household income, which might reduce what some see as the need for cutting. Schools can also expose girls to people from different cultures and to mentors who might oppose the practice. While many girls have been cut by the time they reach school, they may be more likely to not continue the cycle with their own daughters.

Educating men and boys about the dangers of cutting is important, too. And the report found that many men, like women, want the practice to end but feel they have to subject their daughters to it for social reasons.

Ultimately, as many as 30 million girls face genital mutilation in the next decade, but there is some hope.

If, in the next decade, we work together to apply the wealth of evidence at our disposal, we will see major progress. That means a better life and more hopeful prospects for millions of girls and women, their families and entire communities.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Female Genital Mutilation and Identifying girls and women at risk

entifying girls and young women at risk

Knowing who has been mutilated or is at risk is often difficult. This is difficult because:

• it happens only once

• parents may believe FGM is a good thing to do for their daughters

• the genitalia of girls are rarely examined

• it is not culturally acceptable for girls to talk openly about FGM.

But remember there is a risk if:

• the girl’s mother or her older sisters have been cut

• the mother has limited contact with people outside of her family

• the paternal grandmother is very influential within the family

• the mother has poor access to information about FGM

• no one talks to the mother about FGM

• health, social service and education staff fail to respond appropriately

• communities are given the impression that FGM is not taken seriously by the statutory sector.

Step up and say No to FGM. It has nothing to do with culture or religion. Spread the message and say no to an unnecessary, horrific procedure that has no value to a woman’s body.



Saturday, 30 May 2015

Female genital Mutilation in 2015

I read with joy of many charities or groups coming together to fight female genital mutilation. Unfortunately there are some challenges that we have to face. Just one piece of advice. I am African and I know how challenging it is to change a mind-set. So I thought of ways to approach people. Nothing new but they are worth remembering. There is no doubt that it is a violent crime so why then is the practice not coming to an end despite campaigns going back decades? Part of it is because people don’t know any better. I have come to the conclusion that FGM has been an untouchable area for charities and so forth because for many it seemed like attacking a people’s culture. And those communities where FGM is practised have led people to believe that it is a culture, with most of these practising countries being former colonies of Western countries (which had experienced criticisms of their indigenous cultures and behaviours). As a result, there may be a tendency for local people to be defensive, even when they know the practice is wrong. It’s all very well talking about FGM and writing about it but people also need strategies that work. What might have worked in one community might not necessarily work for another and this should be remembered.
Also sometimes people forget the local people and how important they are.  I remember when I was young; there were communities that resisted immunisation. When health officials went there with their mobile clinic, they found a ghost city waiting for them. All the children had been hidden and a few adults waited to explain that they did not want anybody attacking their culture. ‘Culture’ does not justify violence. Some people from FGM communities see any involvement by outsiders as an attack and would oppose anyone who said otherwise, which why the method by which we approach people and whether they can feel they can trust us makes a difference in people’s attitude. For the example above of people who resisted immunising their kids, it was by making people involved understand the risks involved that worked rather than a confrontation.
How was this achieved?
  • Dealing with the senior people of the community rather than with individuals
  • Bribing people ( Even during slave trade, wealthy landowners had to be paid off in order to release their slaves) Sometimes small favours can get someone’s attention even if it’s just to make them listen.
  • Listening to people’s views. - No good doing the talking without giving the FGM practising community leaders an ear. Let’s remember, in these communities there is stigma associated with whichever way things go. Those circumcised are laughed at and those who are not are made to feel small, so it is best to listen and listen well. Oxfam, in it’s approach in helping communities realised that it works better to empower the locals than impose.
  • Knowing when to stop. I have seen people trying so hard to make people understand reason, but if one pushes more than the other person can take, it can be all in vain as people are by nature defensive to criticism.
  • Just keeping things simple- In the case of immunisation, the people involved with the project used all sorts of tools including rag dolls to illustrate the dangers of the consequences. Slowly people began to understand. People like circumcisers in many FGM practising communities are not educated, and would need more than an English written document to understand and accept
  • Making sure the communication and the message being relayed is what the other person thinks it is. This can be achieved by getting a balance by understanding people and communities and their background. Writing a piece of paper in a room or hotel somewhere without the understanding of a people could be seen as an attack. Culture whether good or bad with a capital C is central to the existence of many communities especially African. But it can be this culture that enslaves. Making those from the culture understand, will need perseverance and understanding from activists.
  • I would also suggest it may be better for people to know and understand something of a community before approaching them.
  • Just work with others rather than being individualistic. This is a global problem and making it a one man band does not work. Remember these people have been practising FGM for years and to them it is normal. There needs to be more than one person working in a community.
As I pointed out before , saying something is not right within a community is not the same as attacking a country or people but like any community anywhere in the world it is necessary to weed out from time to time the evil and harmful practices. Like any cultural war there are bound to be criticisms and attacks but we have gone too far to let those attackers win. The battle continues, No to FGM.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Happy Africa Day

Happy Africa Day!

An interesting poem from one of Africa's sons - David Diop

Africa my Africa
Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs
Africa of whom my grandmother sings
On the banks of the distant river
I have never known you
But your blood flows in my veins
Your beautiful black blood that irrigates the fields
The blood of your sweat
The sweat of your work
The work of your slavery
Africa, tell me Africa
Is this your back that is unbent
This back that never breaks under the weight of humiliation
This back trembling with red scars
And saying no to the whip under the midday sun
But a grave voice answers me
Impetuous child that tree, young and strong
That tree over there
Splendidly alone amidst white and faded flowers
That is your Africa springing up anew
springing up patiently, obstinately
Whose fruit bit by bit acquires
The bitter taste of liberty.
Food for thought!