Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
For most people in Europe, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is an outdated and distant tradition in which parts of the female genital organs are removed. It used to be practiced regularly in a cruel way and has now long been banned in most countries.
This is correct, at least in theory! In practice, however, it looks different, still today FGM is practiced mainly in western and northeastern Africa, as well as in Yemen, Iraq, Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries. But even in countries where this ritual is now banned, FGM is still practiced.
FGM is practiced in different ways. Depending on the tradition of the place or tribe, a distinction is made between the following forms of circumcision:
Type I: partial or complete removal of the externally visible part of the clitoris (clitoridectomy) and/or the clitoral prepuce (clitoral prepuce reduction).
Type II: partial or complete removal of the externally visible part of the clitoris and the labia minora with or without circumcision of the labia majora (excision).
Type III: (also infibulation): narrowing of the vaginal opening with formation of a covering closure by cutting and joining the labia minora and/or labia majora, with or without removal of the externally visible part of the clitoris.
Type IV: This category includes all practices that cannot be assigned to one of the other three categories. The WHO mentions, for example, piercing, cutting (introcision), scraping as well as cauterization of genital tissue, cauterization of the clitoris or the introduction of corrosive substances into the vagina.
Not to be despised are the consequences of this ritual, we have listed only a few of them here:
Psychological trauma: certainly no woman will forget the pain, because FGM is usually practiced without any anesthesia. Not to forget the shame and insults that are done by the cutter. The women are often held down in the process and it is not uncommon for FGM to take place against their will.
Life-threatening infections (also HIV!): by unhygienic conditions using unwashed razor blades or broken glass with which the cut is made. Often the wound is not treated afterwards or even contaminated with traditional practices such as ashes.
Death: It is not uncommon for the girls to die as a result. There is a particular risk of bleeding, as the wound is not sutured. The body is then thrown into the forest as animal food.
Complications during childbirth: Depending on the type, deep scarring and missing parts of the vagina occur, which can lead to severe complications during childbirth.
Loss of an organ: After removal, sexual arousal is no longer possible for women, and they may also suffer extreme pain during sexual intercourse.
Urinary tract infections, incontinence: severe injuries can likewise cause serious consequences to the entire urogenital area.
Despite the consequences for the girls, girls in Kuria, Kenya continue to be circumcised, for this the Kuria have their own reasons:
Getting an "adult": through genital mutilation, girls become women and gain recognition. Especially during puberty, this seems to be important to the girls.
Proving courage: Those
who are circumcised are already considered brave, but those who only bat their eyes or even start to scream or cry during the procedure are considered weak and are frowned
Being a full member of the community: Only after circumcision the woman is allowed to participate in cultural traditions, such as weddings. Those who are not circumcised are excluded. Many girls look forward to this "status" so much that they accept the torment of circumcision for it.
Symbol of "purity": only
when the woman is married the husband is allowed to penetrate her and push up anything mutilated, a very traumatic, dangerous and painful event. The mutilation guarantees the husband virginity
and "purity", so to speak.
marriage possible: most men accept only "pure" women and girls released for marriage, moreover, they then pay a higher bride price.
Bride price: The bride price for the parents of the girl is higher if she is cut. Especially the poor families depend on this and then also marry their daughters off at a young age.
Big celebration, many gifts: an attraction for girls from poor backgrounds is of course the money, the many gifts and the recognition they receive at such a ceremony. It is a big celebration for the girls that starts the night before the circumcision. The women sing and dance all night. They are specially dressed after being cut, they wear the cloth soaked with their blood around their legs and walk through the village with an umbrella and a celebrating crowd.
A few impressions of such a ceremony:
Since 1990 it is officially forbidden in Kenya to force someone to undergo FGM. Since 2011 FGM is completely illegal.
Nevertheless, 96% of women among the Kuria people are mutilated (mostly type II). The age of mutilation of girls is between 9 and 18 years, but the procedure usually takes place before the age of 15. This is probably because it is important for the girls to belong at this age and because they are not able to understand exactly what is being done to them at a younger age. This is exactly what Zinduka wants to change. In schools, girls should be educated early and understand what FGM means. They are supported and learn that it is okay to say "no".
The girls are married off as soon as they have been subjected to FGM and have survived it. This is a great relief for the usually very poor parents, as the daughter moves into the man's family and in return they receive a valuable gift, the so-called bride price. The parents depend on, for example, a new cow, goat or chickens, which they receive in return.
Once a girl is mutilated, married and involved in the man's household, there is no turning back. She has no right to go her own way, to start an education or to study. The man decides. Zinduka has made it its business to advise parents who want to marry off their children because of the poor conditions, to show them alternatives and to convince them that there are other ways that are less painful for the girls. We support girls in going to school, as this also costs money in Kenya.
Zinduka also organizes father-daughter camps to make the men, who have the most say, understand how valuable it is to have a daughter and what FGM means.
Interview with Antonia Waskowiak, about FGM and the "Rescuecamp" in Kuria
an excerpt from Antonia's diary (December 2012).
"What is weighing heavily on my mind here at the moment is the time of circumcision and female genital mutilation, which has become a daily occurrence since the beginning of December. Every morning many boys and girls are circumcised and mutilated and then march home cheering, dancing and singing. I am trying to understand the culture, however I am not quite succeeding yet....
In 2010, there were still camps organized by local development organizations that were set up during the circumcision period. They were contact points for girls who were forced by their parents, but were strong enough to defend themselves against the mutilation and run away.
I intended to visit these very camps, to support them and to engage with the girls there. However, the search was unsuccessful. The camps have not taken place anymore since this year. Supposedly, there are no more girls who are forced. In fact, I get to see how many girls want to endure the cruel act voluntarily. For example, because their friends also do it and they are "uncool" if they are not also mutilated. Or also because they are afraid of not finding a husband or being chased away by the man's family, because they could only accept a circumcised woman.
The fact that it is already illegal to mutilate girls is known by the Kuria, but they are not interested at all. The police even arrested the mutilator last week when the whole thing started and banned the procedure. However, the Kuria were outnumbered with machetes, knives and dangerous objects and recaptured the woman. Nevertheless, she is not mutilating girls this year. Therefore, those who want to be mutilated now have to walk to the nearest community where the procedure is still possible. That is more than 12 kilometers that the girls have to walk before and after the event. Some arrive at our home in blood-bathed robes. The puddles of blood on the street are almost normal for me...
Fortunately, I live in a village where the young people are very strong and almost all of them have fought against female genital mutilation. Together with my host sister, we have already talked our mouths off and tried to convince other stubborn girls not to get circumcised as well. Unfortunately, that's all we can do for now..."