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Must we legalise genital mutilation?

Chama members were at it again last Saturday. They called for an urgent meeting and ordered me to join them.

Must we legalise genital mutilation?

Dr Joachim Osur examines the long list of issues women who have been circumcised suffer. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH

“Do not take this invitation lightly. It is not one of those optional ones,” the chairperson emphasised to me on phone. “We have an important sex matter in the courts of law and if we get it wrong, our lot will forever suffer the consequences and we will forever be ridiculed by the international community.”

As you may be aware, Chama is a women’s only welfare group of which I am the only male member.

My membership is pegged on my expertise in matters sex and I am only invited to meetings when these issues are being discussed.

“One of you doctors has gone to court with a petition that adult women be allowed to undergo FGM,” the vice chairperson explained at the meeting. “We have planned to hold a demonstration outside the court during the hearing but we would like your expert view on the subject.”

Chama members were referring to a case in a Machakos court in which a doctor is petitioning for FGM to be legalised for adult women and to be done in health facilities. “Well, the case is before the courts and I think we are not allowed to discuss it,” I replied, trying to bring reason to a group that was visibly angry.

“Okay good doctor, do not discuss the case. Just enlighten us on the subject of FGM and we will make our own decisions on how to respond to the petition,” said the chairperson.

And so I found myself between a rock and a hard place. There was definitely no embargo on sharing information on FGM, but I hoped this would not be deemed as interfering with matters before a court of law.

FGM is the cutting of the clitoris and/or other external parts of the female genitals for non-medical reasons. It is deeply rooted in culture and social norms of communities that perform it. It is designed to control a woman’s sexuality. Most of the affected communities believe that if a woman’s genitals are left intact, she becomes too excited sexually and is likely to sleep around. In fact, there is a strong male protectionism and control embedded in the reasoning: that a woman has to be helped to remain faithful to her husband by removing the genital parts that make her go sexually crazy.

Another grounded belief is that genitals of a woman are dirty. FGM is meant to remove those dirty parts. These beliefs are so strong in some communities that a woman who has not undergone FGM cannot get a husband. In one community, men even believe that a woman with intact genitals can poison a man who has sex with her and cause him to die.

Although there has been division among clergy on the religious connotations of FGM, some communities believe that it is sinful not to be circumcised. This religious angle may mean that by advocating for an end to FGM, one is interfering with others’ faith. A woman who lives in a community that performs FGM therefore finds herself in a tight corner where she has no option but to undergo the practice so as to be accepted.

“But that is unfair, it is unjust and it takes away their rights and freedoms!” a member shouted from the back. This is very true. In fact it is a serious gender issue because it is one way men control freedoms of women.

Medically the practice has serious implications. Bleeding, infection and pain can be so severe as to cause death. Some women cannot concieve after FGM due to the damage to their internal organs when infection spreads to internal organs after the procedure. A number of women have pain during sex and will never experience pleasurable sex. Psychologically, the memory of the pain can be eternally damaging. If children are circumcised, they immediately become women and terminate their education for early marriage.

I noticed that Chama members were unusually quiet. I stopped to assess if they were following the discussion only to realise that a number were weeping quietly.

“What you are describing is traumatising,” the chairperson interjected. “Some of our members are living with these consequences and you have touched raw wounds.”

I was then asked to leave the room for members to strategise on what they would do for the court case. I am anxiously waiting to see how they react on the day the case comes up for mention.

SOURCE: Daily Nation, Kenya


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