On one occasion, while having a grand-daughter grand-father moment, I got a chance to ask my old grandfather (96yrs) some questions that had been bugging me for a long time. Now that I was no longer a child I felt that that was the right time to boldly ask him this sensitive question; why don’t The Banyore practice FGM? The answer was quite flabbergasting!
At his age, he could still articulate well and yes I loved his sense of humor! I would sleep on aching ribs. I loved him and I miss him. He passed on a few months after our candid talk.
My grandfather was a chauvinist; he had very low regard for women. He despised women who wore high heels, or those who sought for power and especially women news anchors/broadcasters (what can they tell people) I guess those were his thoughts. He would simply tune to a different radio station for news when he heard a voice of a female anchor. He felt that all women belonged to the kitchen and that that was their rightful place. He headed barazas and the only time women were invited was when tea was to be served. As a matter of fact I would never visit him dressed in trousers; on my first attempt he warned me and even threatened to reduce them to rugs, so I heeded to his advice, (Ops that was more of a command than advice). As for the heels, he warned me that one woman fell down terribly and almost lost her life in heels and it would be sad if I followed suit! He, however, preferred slender to mid-sized women and slammed on fat ones, ouch! In a way, he was the perfect vestige of an old patriarchal age when men called the shots and women heeded and still held fast to his belief in men’s absolute power to shape their destiny and those of women they interacted with.
Back to his answer about why my community does not practice FGM. He took some time to reminisce, then came out again. The first attempt to mutilate a woman had turned tragic.
He explained that the first and the last act was carried out years ago in a small village of Itumbu, 2km from the famous Luanda Market. The husband to this married woman had complained of her promiscuity to the council of elders. The council therefore decided to perform an FGM act on her in order to contain her ‘steam’ and also serve as a deterrent to other women.
Unfortunately, the woman passed on that very evening while the council was celebrating the achievement at a fireplace and local brew fest. They were perturbed when they heard screams from that homestead. To their dismay, the woman had bled to death. Several expensive rituals had to be conducted for a number of days. The act was viewed as heinous and was seriously condemned. The astonishing incident instilled fear in the entire community.
This took me aback and created a little moral dilemma. Wait; was it good that she passed on or was it good that the death inspired a tradition change and went on to shape our tradition and spare women like me in the future, albeit from that physical manifestation of male dominion?
According to my community, death is seen as bad omen. We do not tolerate deliberate death or suicide. If a person commits suicide, they are buried in the middle of the night where total silence is observed and all lights dimmed. The dead person is at first slapped around and condemned for his foolishness. This is done to serve as a deterrent to others.
If someone kills another, either deliberately or accidentally, they have to undergo rituals in order to make peace with the dead. If not the spirit of the dead haunts them for the rest of their life!
Back to my story….
We, however, haven’t fully escaped from the practice since my sisters are married off to neighboring communities that practice FGM such as The Kuria, and are somehow compelled to pursue the act. It remains something that our current council of elders is seriously looking into.
In my clan, to curb FGM, my uncles had to triple the bride price (to make it tough to acquire a nyore woman) when my aunt was forced to be circumcised a few years after being married into the Kuria community. FGM is still rampant among the Kuria. Additionally my uncles paid a visit to the community and declared that any attempt to circumcise the Banyore women married in the Kuria community would lead to conflict and also forbid intermarriages between the two communities. That act of tragedy has transformed the male in my community into unwitting gender activists in their own right!
In the past week, I have been lucky to engage with The Guardian Media team from the UK. Last year they launched a global media campaign against FGM. Last week they held a first of its kind media academy where FGM activists from FGM-practicing communities converged to share experiences and learn how to use media to end FGM. The Academy dubbed #EndFGMacademy brought together young activists from Kenya, Gambia and Nigeria. It was an eye-opening experience and I also got to rub shoulders with some of my Kenyan female idols!
My quest to learn more and write more on FGM was born or rather reborn! Now it is not just an abiding security but practical quest to actually share and rediscover. It is still something that people take for granted and I think the consequences can be quite tragic as the Banyore learned years ago. I will now use any available platform including my new blog to bring out stories like these.
For those not yet familiar with FGM, if there are still any souls left, here is a little induction:-
So what is FGM?
Female genital mutilation/cutting comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs, or any harmful procedure to the female genitalia, for non medical reasons
According to WHO, FGM has been classified into four major types,
- Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
- Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
- Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
- Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
Several efforts/approaches have been brought forth to end FGM in Kenya. The enactment of the Anti-FGM Act in 2011 paved way for the formation of the Anti-FGM Board. The Board headed by Dr. Linah Jebii Kilimo has the mandate
“To prohibit the practice of female genital mutilation, to safeguard against violation of a person’s mental or physical integrity through the practice of female genital mutilation and for connected purposes”
The government through its constitution, passed the Children’s Act, 2001 which protects children from harmful cultural rites and which specifically states
“No person shall subject a child to female circumcision, early marriage or other cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the childs life, health, social welfare or physical or psychological development” (Kenya 2001,Sec. 14)
NGOs continue to sensitize communities on effects of FGM. Communities like the Maasai have opted for alternative rites of passage
The media is also coming in to bridge the awareness creation gap. I believe FGM will be totally wiped out in Kenya.
A journey starts with a mile……