I spent 5 weeks in Tanzania, East Africa There were many places that I wanted to travel. I love Lamu, Kenya and would have liked to spend a few days there. I wanted to spend a few days in Nairobi, Kenya and also Kampala, Uganda. I realized in the middle of my trip that I would not be having a holiday and doing any of these things.
I came to Africa with fear. I allowed my largest donor to influence me with her fear. I knew that I had to get sustainable funding for my program in the US or I would not be able to move forward. I understand the power of focus and I understand the power of perseverance. My Assistant and many funders kept telling me that I needed to focus on gardening or academics and not the two. I knew that I would not do that. Education needs to be relevant and meaningful. I insist upon it.
When I started working with the girl’s in Tanzania, I recognized that they feared the past that they left. They feared that being supported in education was something too good to be true. I recognized that a lot of their dysfunctional actions stemmed from this fear People tend to act out fear and create the very circumstances that they fear. They couldn’t believe that the support would last and be sustainable. It was not; one needs to generate enough income to support a program in order for it to be sustainable.
I wanted to uncover some of the issues they feared. Many girls feared female genital mutilation and early marriages. There families were poor and a nice dowry of cows and other livestock would help sustain the family by providing food and a source of earning. Many Westerners wrongly identify this as selling their daughters.
Female genital mutilation is not considered much in the United States. Parents forcing their daughters to get married to an older man with other wives is not an issue . Young girls are valued for their bodies. They perform most of the physical labor and they are more desirable as sexual partners. Many older men seek out young girls for this reason. Older men may have more wealth, which means they can provide security. Parents seek to improve their own living conditions as well as security for their daughters. The cultural practice of mutilating a young girl’s genitals to prepare her for marriage as her security continues despite opposition. Every parent wants a secure future for his/ her child.
An Egyptian friend once compared female circumcision to male circumcision. This is a lie. Male circumcision involves cutting off the foreskin, which makes the penis less likely to become infected . This compares to women who have their hymen cut in order to allow for less painful first intercourse. The hymen is naturally broken during intercourse to allow for penetration. It can also be broken due to vigorous physical exercise like horseback riding or riding a bicycle. The discomforts in both instances are temporary and does not interfere with the functioning or pleasure centers in the genitalia.
Female genital mutilation may vary across cultures. One thing is certain is that the clitoris is removed so that females never enjoy sex or achieve orgasm. More than 125 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation and 3 million girls in Africa are scheduled to undergo this procedure unless something is changed. Girls bleed to death from this procedure and many suffer frequent infections and excruciatingly painful childbirth. Mothers tend to participate in this ritual. So the person that the girl trusts the most violates her in the most intimate area. The girl child becomes reminded of this intimate violation every time she has sex for the rest of her life.
Men were castrated at one point in order to around the King’s wives and concubines. Eunuchs existed in biblical times. The Spanish started the practice of scalping their captors with the Moors and later continued with Native Americans. These practices were considered barbaric and were discontinued as we evolved. Nowhere in the world do any culture practice castrating males to make them safe for work around females or scalping their victim in war. Female genital mutilation needs to follow as one of those barbaric practices that we no longer perform or condone.
FGM affects both the physical and psychological health of girls, directly impacting their attendance and performance at school by 25%. This negatively impacts their right to equality, economic potential and security. Girls have lower literacy rates and face pressured to marry early. They become vulnerable to HIV/Aids transmission, and childbirth complications such as obstructed fistula. With poor access to healthcare, they die. Yet people often shrug their shoulders and say it’s cultural. The guillotine was cultural at one time, everything cultural was not meant to move forward.
Female Genital Mutilation affects girls psychologically. It really doesn’t matter whether it is your culturally practice or not. When you live in a community where girls are raped and molested frequently, it affects you because you are a girl. When you know girls who are mutilated it causes you to feel less safe in the integrity of your own body.
I admire African cultures for maintaining the sanctity and importance of marriage. 54 countries in Africa and all value marriage as the most sacred human institution. I wish Americans valued marriage to the same degree. There is no reason that a girl should not finish secondary school and even college before considering marriage. Modern problems require solutions that combine the best of indigenous and modern practices.
New problems require new solutions. Energy, food security and technology challenges dominate the 21st Century. The girl child needs to work alongside the boy child to receive the best education possible to tackle these issues. Girls need an education. They need access to these same opportunities without worrying about having their genitals assaulted. Let’s see that they get them.