I Refuse to be Cut! : Female Genital Mutilation and the Pokot Girls of Kenya
Is this Culture to remain ‘As Is’ or to be revisited?
PLEASE READ THE FULL ARTICLE AND WATCH VIDEOS BEFORE RESPONDING
Are people who consider the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to be ‘backwards’ just ignorant because they are overlooking the cultural and traditional significance of the practice?
Are some of us wrong deducing that FGM is nothing more than an assault on womanhood? In thinking that the practice is enforced as a mechanism of control over women?
The latter questions become all the more problematic since the practice female circumcision is predominantly performed by women. How is FGM a way of oppressing women if it is enforced by other women? Why would women want to condone and enforce a practice that is a blatant assault on their sexuality?
Maybe the women who enforce and condone FGM are just illiterate and continue with the practice because it is what they know and what they were taught was right. Maybe they are fearful the men will retaliate against them for not enforcing the practice.
FGM is a surgical procedure that is usually done without anesthetics or clean tools and involves the removal of the prepuce and the partial or complete removal of the clitoris. Some practitioners of FGM also go as far as surgically removing the labia minora or sewing together the labia majora, covering the urethra and vagina, while only leaving a small opening for the passage of urine. The end result of this painful and torturous procedure is that it reducing or permanently terminates a woman’s sexual feelings during intercourse. This ensures that she does not experience pleasure, thereby lessening her desire to have extramarital affairs. Thousands of young women also die yearly from the procedure, either due to infections brought about by the unsanitary tools being used or because of a tremendous loss of blood.
FGM continues to be practiced in many parts of Africa and the Middle East. Defenders of the practice argue that it is grounded in culture, tradition and for some, religion and that all objections against the practice are motivated by Western forces and their agenda to impose their ideologies other parts of the world. However, many of the young women who are forced to undergo the procedure are leading the movement to abolish the painful practice. They can no longer stand by and witness the pain, suffering and even death the practice of FGM brings.
“I will never be cut.”
The young women of Pokot Kenya are letting their communities and the rest of the world know that they are “not pieces of meat” and that “I will never be cut.” They question how the very women who gave birth to them and experience the pain and suffering the procedure brings can continue to endorse the inhumane practice. Some have even chosen suicide over having to undergo the painful procedure.
In a brief documentary about the plight of these young women, the young Pokot ‘rebel’ Nancy Tomee looks at her mother and asks “‘how can you allow your child to die within like this as if you didn’t give birth to me?” Dumfounded by her daughter’s question, her mother responds solemnly stating “I’m defeated by all your stories. I am just confused.”
While I am inspired by and support Nancy’s resistance to the practice, I am also sympathetic to her mother’s position. Her expressed sense of confusion speaks volumes to the internal struggle these women undergo in trying to make sense of their situation. Although Nancy’s mother understands her daughter’s suffering and pain, she enforces the practice because it is what she knows. It is how she was raised and what she thought was right. As expressed in the video, undergoing FGM in Nancy’s community is a way for the woman to prove her womanhood. By having the ability to withstand the painful procedure, it is her way of demonstrating to her community that she can withstand the harsh life of the community and provide for her family.
The difference between Nancy and her mother is that Nancy has been empowered. She has more resources available to her to rebel against the practice. She has the support of the women of the grassroots group “Kepstono Rotwo” or Abandon the Knife.
While I have heard about female circumcision, I never really thought much of it until reading Ayann Hirsi Ali’s book Infidel. The book exposed me to the pain, torture and psychological trauma many of the young girls forced to undergo circumcision experience. While I am a strong believer and proponent of cultural, traditional and religious preservation, I am unable to support a practice that I consider to be nothing but a blatant assault on womanhood. Sexism transcends culture, tradition and religion and the fact that many chose to hide the practice of FGM under these banners does not take away from its main motivator.
I applaud Nancy for her rebel stance. She has chosen to rise up against a practice that has been entrenched in her community for hundreds of years. The fact that a practice has been continued for extended periods does not by itself grant it legitimacy. If we were all to adhere to this mentally, then slavery and all other forms of oppressions that have been practiced for centuries would flourish as the dominant forms of institutions today.
Nancy’s refusal “to witness my mothers’ suffering and then to repeat the cycle. I have decided to set an example. I am going to be a role model. I will be an example” is applicable to any resistance movement undertaken by women everywhere.