Why FGM is still Common Practice in my Country

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— By Alexandrine from Burkina Faso

Early in December 2016, UNFPA organized a press tour in the north central region of Burkina Faso, to observe compliance with measures prohibiting female genital mutilation (FGM). The report is bitter.

Despite the multitude of information and awareness campaigns, and the adoption of the law prohibiting female genital mutilation in Burkina Faso, the practice still persists. It is estimated that more than 70% of women are circumcised in Burkina Faso. The excision rate for women between the ages of 15 and 49 is 76% and 13% for girls between 0 and 14 years. According to a report by the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, female circumcision affects almost all ethnic groups in Burkina Faso throughout the country.

During our tour, in one of the public schools we visited, we met Rokiatou, a 10-year-old girl with a smile on her lips and sad eyes. She experienced the sad and harsh reality of excision. Rokiatou was excised at the age of 6 years. It was her grandmother who accompanied her to the matron. Rokiatou was lucky because she did not have any complications, but what does the life of woman, bride and young mother reserve to her?

Excision involves serious physical and psychological consequences for women. It is very painful because it is done without anesthesia. Moreover, it is made in precarious hygienic conditions, which promote infections and the proliferation of the transmission of the AIDS virus.

Like this girl, there are many women and girl victims of female genital mutilation in the Kaya region and throughout Burkina Faso.

 A midwife told us that several girls are admitted weekly to the health center due to aggravated cases of excisions.

 “This week we received a six-year-old girl, a type two excision. For the second also, excision of type two with a large beacon, she will need a repair.”

There are three types of excision, two of them are frequent in Burkina Faso. This is the removal of all or part of the clitoris and removal of the clitoris plus the labia minora.

The complicit silence of parents

The actors of the practice of excision cite several reasons, including tradition and religion. These arguments are based on popular beliefs such as:

– The removal of the clitoris makes it possible to make a sexual differentiation. The girl must renounce to her potential rod, the clitoris, to become “a real woman”.

– From a certain age the little girls have itching in the area due to the presence of worms in the clitoris. So we have to extract the clitoris.

– Female not excised = Clears an odor due to the presence of the clitoris.

– At the time of delivery, if the head of the newborn touches the clitoris, it follows the death of the latter. It is therefore necessary for the survival of the newborn.

– The circumcised girl will remain faithful to her future husband.

Since 1995, article 380 of the Penal Code of Burkina Faso punishable by imprisonment of six to three years and a fine of 150 000 to 900 000 F CFA, anyone who attacks the integrity of the genital organ of the woman.

Despite the existence of this law and the number 80 00 11 12 to denounce the cases of excision in Burkina Faso, few people are still quick to do so, especially when it involves their relatives, for fear of tearing the family fabric. Many girls are thus circumcised in the knowledge and appreciation of the parents who, even if they are aware of the harmful consequences, prefer to remain silent rather than surrender the culprits and other accomplices to the police and / or judicial authorities.

Studies have reported 31 cases of excision, including 5 deaths in 2015.

What to do ?

Several international organizations have condemned FGM as a violation of human rights, the rights of the child, and the right to health and physical integrity. Burkina Faso, by joining these various conventions, has made fighting female circumcision one of its priorities. There is hope, however, of abandoning the practice of FGM in Burkina Faso.

The need especially is to dare to talk about sexuality to teenagers, because the presence of the clitoris has nothing to do with sexual debauchery.

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A rare image in Sub-Saharan Africa

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— By Adan from Somalia

As UNESCO showed in 2009, Somalia is a country where the literacy rate of female adults is 25.8%; cultural issues and some other factors lead to a low level of female education. Mostly, the parents of Somalis, particularly those who live in the rural areas, prefer to get family assistance from girls instead of sending them to education centers. In rural and some urban areas, the girls are busy with the work in the house, including laundry, cooking, etc.

Yusuf Aybakar Shador is a father who was one of the engineering students of Somali National University, before the destruction of the country in 1991. At that time, he was at junior stage (third year) of the university, but unfortunately he was not able to finish the year because of civil wars broke out in the country. It was a surprise that he rejoined the Somali National University when it reopened in 2014. Once he was asked the reason that he didn’t enroll in another university. He answered that the other universities were mostly of lower quality. Now he is a student of the faculty of Law, and he is in his third year of the university.

Not only him, his four other daughters are also attending the same university. Fatima Yusuf is a student in the faculty of Medicine, and she is in her third year. Naima is a student in the faculty of Engineering, and similarly to Fatima, she is in her third year of the university. Muno, who studies Economics, and Iman who studies Education, are in their first year of the university.

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Yusuf and his daughters

In the last weeks, in interviews he gave to the international media, including BBC, VOA, and Al-Jazeera, he told about how he is happy to be student of Somali National University with his four daughters. He also gave interviews to other local and international media outlets, and many articles about his interesting story were published.

Following this event, we can learn many things from it, including:

  • Educating girls is something very important.
  • There are in Africa, especially Somalia, fathers who preferr to educate their girls instead of keeping them uneducated.
  • There is no excuse for being uneducated, weather it is age, the need for girls to help at home, etc.

Finally, this is hope for girls around the world.

Gender & Inheritance Among the Kuria People

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— By James from Kenya

The Kuria community is a Bantu tribe found at the border of Kenya and Tanzania, near Lake Victoria. Traditionally, Kurians were subsistence farmers and cattle keepers. But with the advent of modernity, they have greatly metamorphosed. They currently occupy every kind of profession such as finance, military, administration, medicine, engineering, business, etc.

Culturally, it’s men who inherit property among the Kurians. A woman’s position is with her husband, it was believed. And even this way, the inheritance of a woman who did not bear male children was a complicated issue. For such a woman, it meant that all her daughters would be married off and the woman would remain alone with no one to inherit her property or advance her lineage – for only a son could carry on someone’s lineage. So by extension, a mother without a son was generally deemed childless (which was not the case). Therefore, the Kuria community, just like many cultures in the world, values the boy. A sad thing according to me.

Due to these cultural complexities, there were some cultural practices allowed to compensate for the two issues: inheritance and lineage continuity. The “Nyumba mboke/nyumba ntobhu” was the savior. “Nyumba mboke” is a cultural arrangement where a barren woman (not necessarily that she was barren, for the problem could have been with the husband, but she remained faithful to him) or a sonless woman was permitted by the culture to take a younger woman and stay with her. This younger woman has the right to choose a man of her liking to sire children with her. The children of this union were assumed to belong to the older woman, thereby ensuring that the inheritance remained in this household and that the older woman’s lineage did not terminate.

Several points are worth noting here.

First, it should be noted that there is no sexual relationship between the two women as portrayed by some outsiders. It is not a lesbian relationship. Actually, the younger woman refers to the older woman as mother. A quick check on the internet yields articles that assume that a sexual relationship occurs between the women.

Second, this arrangement is only permitted under two circumstances – where there is no son, or where there is no child at all. Again, outsiders have erroneously come up with other circumstances under which the union can occur (e.g. where the husband is absent). *Read an article written by Gabriel Samuels of The Independent on July 29, 2016: http://www.independent.co.uk/…/straight-women-kurya-tanzani…

Third, the younger woman gets to choose the man of her liking to be her companion and whom she should make children with. It should be noted that the man has no claim whatsoever over the children born out of this relationship. *Read Marie Claire: http://www.marieclaire.com/cult…/a21668/the-tanzanian-wives/

Despite the fact that this cultural arrangement has given women some sort of peace of mind for a long time, it has several major challenges. Essentially, older women who take a younger women have usually reached menopause, meaning that they are advanced in age. Thus, a woman starts taking care of “her children” in her old age when she herself should be receiving care. This becomes a burden.

Meeting the daily demands (both social and economical) for such a household becomes a task. From my general observation, the young women who enter such arrangements are in most cases lacking in western education. Hence, making ends meet in a world that is dependent on western education becomes a challenge.

And, as Marie Claire notes in her article (above link), the biological fathers are not compelled in any way to take care of the children born from this arrangement. This breeds and cultivates irresponsible parenthood. And as it is, these households are more likely to lack a father figure. Thus, the development of the children is disadvantaged in some way.

The words “Nyumba mboke/nymba ntobhu” translate to “the weak house” or “the house of women”. These terms are derogatory in nature in a community that is predominantly patriarchal. The meaning attached to the words impacts how people view themselves or how they view others. So, this household is generally viewed as weak and incapable of supporting itself (which in some cases is wrong). Therefore, the children of this household may grow up thinking that they are inferior or that they are not as worthy as the other children in the community.

Although the “Nyumba mboke/nymba ntobhu” practice is decreasing (contrary to what outsiders have painted), property inheritance among women in Kuria culture still tends to cater to traditionally held views.

Girls and Science: Can ‘Boys’ Champion the Journey?

— By Ibrahim from Uganda

It is Saturday evening and the sun is scorching hot. There are already only four boys waiting for the event to begin. The guest of honor has arrived and everything seems blurry. They sit there faces chocked with half smiles as they hold on a little bit longer. Promisingly members start flocking in. In 20 minutes, they were ready to begin.

This November 26th 2016 Boy-Talk moment organized by Girls in School Initiative had unraveling surprises of its own. It’s not the pizza that they all enjoyed at the end but the thrilling talk from Concern for the Girl Child’s Executive Director, Catherine Opondo, the guest speaker. She first scribbles through her phone notes and then smiling poses that rhetorical question members didn’t expect; ”Will you be a Champion?” The whole meeting grew silent.

This month’s topic centered on whether girls education in science subjects helps bridge the gender disparity gap in the world of sciences, and as always, seeking to understand the greater role boys play in support of this initiative. Mrs. Opondo took a very firm stand on this, that indeed “Girls involvement in sciences helps to bridge the gender disparity gap in the world of science.” She drew examples from her lifeline and career experiences alongside places she has lived in like the Middle East. Mrs. Opondo made the members to re-imagine where science goes beyond the test tube to daily life experiences practices. To her, what is science and where is science? She imagines boys playing a leading role in challenging a girl on what her future plan/dream is in relation to science? Or is it simply, what is it that she likes in a lipstick? A lipstick is just a lipstick but she nuances it with this scientific aspiring girl who is made to rethink on ‘eco-lipstick’ and how it would revolutionize a healthier woman in a cosmetology world.

That; when girls are pushed to think, they too can progressively become better like boys. Her emphatic ideal was “Boys can point girls to hope,” plus “raising aspirations is really important” in any human lives especially girls. Mrs. Opondo stressed out three main wayshow boys can help: Through, (a) Socialization; where they can help bridge the cultural gap; (b) Protection, where boys protect girls against ill derailleur’s by acting as ‘Big Brothers’ and, (c) Advocacy; where boys become champions for change.

In these modern times, there has been a lot of rumbling and calling for girl’s education. But where do we place the men and what is their role in all this? There is still a lot that ‘boys’ can do to champion the cause, more so in the world of science. Mrs. Opondo gave pointers from leverage the using of the existing structures to get organized and seek support through networks; spear heading men’s groups in informing about both the urgent and long term need/impact for promoting girl child education as well as acting as ‘changemakers’ where they promote and encourage girls to pursue sciences in schools.

As the meeting drew to a close, members were already battering with ideas from their own their experiences afar. They agreed that its high time men stopped giving girls dolls but surround them with gadgets to harness their imagination, i.e., procreating a science mind. On a sad reality, many girls drop out of school when they become pregnant and so are giving up on their dreams. This is where men can come in as supportive and counselors that having a baby is not the end of one’s career aspirations.

The whole event seemed quite mind boggling and yet mind changing. It stems from boys’ testimonies of how they perceive the concept of gender while relearning anew. The talk by Mrs. Opondo was nothing less but exploratory, inspirational and more so, relational. The Boy-Talk Moments have had one important impact sofar; continuous dialogue even after culture shock. Muslim boys who are members are battering with perceptions about ‘who is a woman’(both at a personal, religious and societal level) than ever before. The greater hope that seems to looms allover is that members are endlessly questioning while seeking answers of their own without failing to commit themselves to the cause. Wholly, they all seemed to agree with Mrs. Opondo in her assertion that, “The power imbalance cannot be ignored. We maybe different physically but we are all equal”.

Her Name is Adura

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— By Adelakun from Nigeria

Adura is 18 years old. She hopes to get into the university next year to study medicine. She lives in a makeshift shelter in my community. What strikes me the most about Adura is the fact that she’s so intelligent, so, I took a special interest in her as a mentor. Her mother had no formal education but was encouraged by my late mother to send her daughters to school. She sells soda and bottled water to earn some money so that she can send Adura and her younger sister to a low income private school in the community. Adura’s father is dead. Here’s a peek into what her day looks like.

Adura gets up at 5:30am every morning.

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She makes sure her younger sister is ok.


Meanwhile, her mother who sells her wares through the night rests.

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Then Adura takes delivery of Ice blocks which her mother uses to chill the drinks and water she sells. Aftet that she takes a shower in that cubicle. (I cried while taking this picture. It’s amazing the things we take for granted. This is what Adura calls her bathroom).

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Then she has her breakfast (if available.) and reports to a graphics design shop where she is currently on internship. She’s very good at using Corel Draw!

After a long day, she retires to her mother’s shed to sleep. Dinner may or may not happen.

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Adura remains cheerful though. She is the definition of hope in the midst of nothing. When there’s life, there’s hope.

Please, I Want a Boy

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— By Rebecca from Burundi

It was in June, the city of Gitega was very cold and snowy. The birds were singing to announce the birth of a new day. Mwajuma, a farmer woman of five girls lives in Magarama quarter. Every day, from Monday to Thursday, she goes a long way to reach her farm lands located at Songa. It was a Wednesday and Mwajuma woke up early, like every morning. She took a cup, a white dent and a tooth brush from the cupboard, walked towards the back yard, sat in her armchair and brushed her teeth.  A short time after, she went back in the house, tried to be as quiet as possible so that the two youngest children wouldn’t wake up, went to the room of her two older girls and said “Beloved daughters, wake up! It is about time you go to school! Come! Get out of your bed! Remember to take the tea in the cupboard. My daughters have a happy and lucky day. See you in the evening.” Mwajuma then went in her room, picked up the basket and her hoe, and left the house.

Halfway through her commute, she passed by her friends to see if they wanted to share the way with her. Since she woke up Mwajuma was feeling very tired; she had a bit of a headache, nausea and muscular pain but was neglecting all of them. She continued her commute. At that time, Mwajuma was also almost nine months pregnant but was thinking she still had time before her due date. In fact, the doctor had already told her the date, but it made little sense to her; Mwajuma was illiterate. Little by little along the way the pain was growing stronger, as for the muscular pain, the headache, the nausea and the weakness feeling. At some point Mwajuma failed to keep walking and asked for help. Three people; a man and two women, who were passing by, stopped.

Madam, what is wrong?” they asked.

Oaps! Uuuuhhmm! Oath!!! Ouch, my goodness, I feel bad comrade” said Mwajuma.

What shall we do?” said the man.

Okay, right now, let’s take her to the Central Hospital of Gitega” said one of the women.

Mwajuma was brought to the hospital. The two women asked the nurse to help them find a gynecologist doctor. “Wait a moment” said the nurse. Ten minutes after, they learned that she had to be transferred at another hospital, where, she was going to get surgery. The ambulance came and picked them to Mutoyi Hospital. It was going to be Mwajuma’s sixth child. The two women accompanied her to the hospital where they were received by a kind-hearted Italian nurse. Half an hour later, the poor Mwajuma was in the operation room…

Mwajuma opened her eyes and, for a moment, wondered where she was. Then she remembered and a moan escaped through her lips. The Italian doctor hurried over.

Don’t you worry now” she said, “You’ll be fine and the baby is all right”.

Then Mwajuma asked the big question: “Is it a boy or a girl?

A girl” replied the doctor with happiness. “A beautiful, active, five kilograms girl!” she added.

May God send blessing to you” replied Mwajuma.

She was having another girl! What a problem she immediately thought! What would happen to her next? She had mothered five girls already, five girls in nine years of marriage. She felt tears running down her checks, and she remembered how proud and happy she had been when her mother had told her she was enough mature to get married.

Mwajuma had seen her husband Omar, twice. The first time was at her cousin’s house when he arrived there unexpectedly. The second time was when he came with his father to ask for her hand in marriage. It was the houseboy who revealed to Mwajuma the purpose of this meeting. She remembered looking at Omar and his father through the window, drinking wine in small glasses and being congratulated by all the men in the family. They embraced and rubbed noses, with big smiles on everyone’s faces. Mwajuma also remembered her wedding day; the noises, the movements, the old women’s whispers about what will happen during the night following the ceremonies. She eventually found herself alone with this stranger, who had a very good heart, was gentle and considerate.

Well, she knew that right now there would be no happiness and celebration for this newborn girl. God, why couldn’t she have a boy? Just one, that is all she wanted, just one little baby boy. Truth is, she had a boy once, but she had a miscarriage. The only one in nine years and she had to go and lose it… It was her fault too she thought. She had no business climbing a tree at six months of pregnancy, right? She was seeking for firewood and slipped and fell down… After that she had five more girls and now a sixth one. Would Omar divorce her? Would he take a second wife? His old brothers, sisters and parents had been speaking to him about this, even encouraging him to take a second wife urgently so that he can have boys. Omar loved his daughters and her wife, but it didn’t really matter at the end of the day. He needed to have a boy to whom he will inherit. He had all that money and the social and political status and no boy to leave it to.

Her mother came to the hospital to visit her, and then her sisters-in-law arrived. Each one kissed her and congratulated her, but Mwajuma could see they were not really happy. Her mother was especially fearful for her daughter’s future and felt that some disgrace had fallen on her and on the family. The sisters-in-law were secretly very happy, for themselves, because they had boys; with no son in sight, Omar’s social status and half of his fortune would be given to their sons. Of course he was still young and he and Mwajuma might try again. But for the moment the in-laws felt reassured and falsely sympathized with Mwajuma on her bad luck. In Burundian culture, a family with no male child cannot be respected. A woman herself cannot inherit from her parents, only men can. ”Well, it is God’s will”, murmured the sister-in-laws, smiling under their masks and veils. Their mouths were sad, but Mwajuma could see the happiness in their eyes. “God’s will be done”.

After the family, friends started coming as well. They kissed Mwajuma and said, “Congratulations! Cheers!” then sat on the floor, cross-legged. Arranging their robes around them, they drank coffee, ate fruits, paste, and ndagala. Her cousin Sifa, known as “Mama Khadija” came too. She wore a long velvet dress, decorated with flowers, to boast her belly. Mama Khadija was six month pregnant and looked very happy.

Mwajuma thought bitterly “She already has two daughters and three sons. What does she need another baby for? She is not even that young anymore…”

As if she had read her thoughts, Mama Khadija said “This is my last baby. It will be a baby for my old age. The others are married or away at school all day. An empty house is a sad house. You know you need many sons and daughters to keep your husband happy. You are still young, Mwajuma. God has given you six daughters, maybe the next four will be boys, please do not feel tired of giving birth! Remember your husband still want a boy. You need a boy to make you honorable. If it does not happen, I am afraid he will divorce you. So, keep hope. God’s will be done”.

As God wills it, so it will be”, whispered the other women with self-determination and satisfaction.

After a moment, Omar, her husband came in and the ladies all stood up with polite respect and left the room. Omar looked at his wife, tried to smile and searched for something nice to say. He  thought that she must be tired, disappointed, rejected, ashamed of having failed him one more time and afraid of being rejected by him. He sat down near the bed and said “My beloved, mother of my children, we will just have to try again for the next chance, which may be the last, won’t we? I am afraid I will die and then my name will perish, to whom am I going to inherit my fortune? The last chance is nearing, I need a boy!”

Mwajuma suddenly began to cry of sorrow, shame and relief.

Don’t cry” he said angrily. ”the important thing is that you and your girl are in good health” he added, seeming to be humble. “For I still have time, we will try again. Let’s expect good luck for next time, eh?” Mwajuma blushed under the mosquito net and pulled her veil around her face. Omar stood up, heated her hand, got up and left the room with a bit of sadness in his eyes. The ladies came in hurry, rushing back in like a flock of birds, excited to know the news, whether good or bad.

Mwajuma’s mother asked “What did he say, my daughter?

He said may it be, better luck next time, mum…” said Mwajuma while crying.

The mother let out a sign of relief and said “They have another year of sadness…

The women congratulated Mwajuma and left the Hospital to spread the news, just the bad luck of Mwajuma, while she sank back on her pillow and fell asleep…

Womanhood vs. Culture

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— By Rebecca from Burundi

Moving from childhood to adulthood is not always easy, especially for women. For ages, Burundian society has gathered some prejudices and fallacies to be taught to girls once they are heading to adulthood. My life as a girl has always been difficult; I have faced many hardships related to my gender. There are some experiences which might be small enough for others to forget but big enough to reveal the prime purpose of someone’s life – trajectory. Being a girl has sometimes prevented me from being the real person I want to be and made me missed many opportunities.

I have realized that the natural and simple fact that we are created women can be seen as a sin, especially when it comes to menstruation. So, are periods a curse or a gift? This is a much discussed subject in my community. It all goes with prejudices and fallacies which end up undermining females.

When I was about thirteen, I was probably only on my fourth or fifth cycle back then but I already knew the code of conduct that was expected from me while on my period:
“Don’t use the sofa and the bed…”
“Don’t touch anything in the kitchen…”
“DO NOT GO near temple…forget about entering it!”
“Are you a fool? How can you dance during ‘those days’?”
“Keep your used utensils outside of the washing unit, not with our utensils!”

Being a teenager at the time, all these practices barely bothered me and, I have to say, they still don’t bother me much today. I had my cell phone, washroom, utensils, and my food. Who could care less about the stupid outside world?

However, I remember that day of June 2013. I was sitting in my room, reading my favorite novel when I heard my mum: “Rebecca! Get your utensils. A house girl will wash it!” Since I was in my own world; I had unknowingly kept my utensils with everybody else’s. That wasn’t acceptable at all for my mum. Meanwhile I had no idea what was the fuss was all about. You can’t scold a girl in front of her entire family when she is on her period and expect her to not be moody about it.

Obviously I lost my cool.

“What did I do wrong!? Anyway these stupid practices of yours have NO logic, do they?” I said. My mum answered “Rebecca, it is well known in our culture and Burundian community and so you have to follow them and that’s it.” That day shook me. Until that day, I had lived with the perception of being born into a supposedly modern, educated and peri-urban family…

In the same month, my school teacher surprised me too! He asked for help to clean the chalkboard so I stood up to help. Accidently, I slept and almost fell. The classmates burst into laughing and the teacher asked me what was wrong with me.”I am having a great headache” I told the teacher. I did not know that I had stained my skirt with my period and that he could see it. The teacher took me outside the class and asked me what I may have colored my skirt with. I simply told him that I was on my period. Can you guess what happened next? The teacher chased me and told me that I had brought curse into the classroom and that I should not have attended classes during that moment! Then he said ”Rebecca, You will come back after seven days and make sure you return into my class with super cleaning soap and spray to clean that bench!” Godness! What?!

It was on that day that I promised myself to always stand up for what is wrong and the way I saw it and this situation certainly was wrong. These practices seemed fine in the past, considering the fact that no hygiene facilities existed back then. In today’s scenario however, I feel that they are simply hindrances. We expect everything to evolve with time – people’s ways of living, the clothes they wear, the food they eat, and the government they are ruled by. But this? Oh no! Evolution in this area is an absolute sin!

I always wanted to be something more than a doctor, engineer, CA or collector. On that day, I knew had found my goal;I have a dream to start an NGO working against such wrong doings. But don’t misunderstand my words, I don’t think that our Burundian culture and traditions are wrong, oh no! They are one of the most beautiful principles and values IF interpreted, preached and imparted properly. Following these menstrual rituals for instance is a personal choice and shouldn’t be imposed to people and make them feel less confident about themselves. In the 21st century, it’s time to think about what needs to be changed and what shouldn’t.