Kenyan Men Joins Battle Against Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. Though a common practise in many parts of Africa, Middle east and Asia, FGM has no health benefits. It can actually cause many health complications such as:
- severe bleeding
- problems urinating
- childbirth complications
- increased risk of newborn deaths.
- severe pain
- genital tissue swelling
- injury to surrounding genital tissue
FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15. FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
Today we are going to look at stories of women who are suffering due to the FGM practice and also the stories of men who have stood up against the practice.
John and Martha’s story
John barely remembers a time when having sex with his wife did not cause her excrutiating pain. Sex is unbearably painful for Martha because she underwent female genital mutilation (FGM).
"Anytime I go to Martha, she recoils, curling like a child. She cries, begging me to leave her alone. She doesn’t want to have sex any more," John says.
John and Martha hail from Kenya’s Marakwet community in western Kenya. Martha was cut when she was 15. FGM is illegal in Kenya but girls in their community often undergo FGM between the ages of 12 and 17, as a rite of passage in preparation for marriage.
"It is painful when we have sex. I wish this practice would end," she says, adding that it had also made childbirth very difficult for her.
The couple described their first sexual experience as traumatising. The pain was not what Martha imagined and she had to ask her husband to stop. Worse still, John didn’t even know what was going on.
"I didn’t realise a part of her [vulva] had been stitched, leaving only the urethra and a tiny vaginal opening," John told the BBC.
"I try to be very compassionate with my wife. I don’t want her to feel like I don’t respect her, yet we are a couple."
Though the agony continued, they maintained little hope that things would change. That was until John heard of an anti-FGM campaign meeting in his village, targeting men. The meeting awakened him to the dangers the practice posed to women. Though the meeting John also realised that it is the mandate of men to protect their loved ones from such evils.
"After all, it’s men who have a say about children and if I say my child will not be cut, then she won’t be."
Moses and Josephine’s story
The couple has been married for close to 25 years and also have a difficult sex life because of FGM.
"It is always painful but I have learnt to persevere through it."
Discussing FGM is taboo
Discussing sex and related topics such as FGM is still taboo in many Kenyan communities, especially among men.
"No-one told me anything about having sex, especially with an FGM survivor. Even now, it is considered a private matter," says John.
In most practising communities, FGM is considered a prerequisite for marriage and men who speak against FGM are regarded as traitors against a long-standing cultural practice.
"In the olden days if one refused to undergo FGM, they would never find a husband," Josephine says, "and if they did, they would never be fully accepted in that homestead. They would be returned to their family, bringing shame and ridicule to their people."
Dr Tamarry Esho, who researches FGM and campaigns against it, says that of Kenya’s 42 recognised communities, only four have not historically practised FGM.
And some still do.
"This is a deep-rooted cultural practice. A lot of people still feel like it’s their right," says Dr Esho.
But times are changing and so are many communities. In Kenya, just about 10% of the adolescent girls aged between 15 and 19 are now estimated to have undergone FGM, down from almost 50% in 1974.
According to Tony Mwebia, founder of the Men End FGM foundation, which trains community champions to tackle FGM, men can make a big difference in the fight against FGM since they are usually the decision makers.
"In FGM-practising communities in Kenya, while it is women who cut fellow women, men are the decision-makers. However, they have no idea what is cut, how it’s done and what damage is caused to women.
"Once [the men] understand the message, then it’s a big change. They have the platforms, they have the audience, they have the influence," he says.
After attending the anti-FGM meeting, John made a huge step in the right direction by deciding that his daughter would not be cut.
"FGM affects men too. Many are in [emotional] pain but simply persevere. Some cultures say FGM reduces women’s alleged promiscuity. FGM only reduces the love between a man and his wife."
For women who have endured FGM, having male allies makes all the difference, especially in a patriarchal society.
"We once felt powerless, not any more. As a survivor, when my husband says he doesn’t want FGM for our daughters, I’m happy. Our neighbours have also followed suit. They say their daughter won’t be cut."
The names of the couples interviewed for this article have been changed to protect their identities.
Source: BBC News Africa.