With UN backing, November 25 draws attention to violence women endure mainly at the hands of men. Because female genital mutilation, one form that hostility takes, often suppresses male motives because the ‘ritual’ tends to be carried out by women, Kiminta illuminates this paradox.
First, she describes how the Maasai do it, complicity among everyone involved born of desire for ‘benefits’ that discursively outweigh harm and, second, after sharing how milk splashed on initiates to numb them doesn’t work; how legs are tied, clitoris and labia shorn, and the desire to pee great but squelched to avoid the excruciating pain of acid on an open wound, Kiminta reflects on men’s proclivities.
“I sometimes suspect that male tastes are behind hygienic and aesthetic arguments for FGM, the belief that female genitalia are ugly, malodorous and in need of enhancement by blade. If I were to take the podium, I imagine myself saying, ‘It’s unethical to think that a girl is born “ugly” and that beauty emerges only when you cut her up. … Please understand that we can clean ourselves down there without your resorting to torture. After all, the scalpel doesn’t work as well as sex education would’.”
Having spoken to peers and elders, Kiminta had already “noted with dismay their inability to explain how FGM qualifies a child to become the wife of some older man. What about maturity, responsibility and love? Shouldn’t a mate exhibit these? Do these qualities count for nothing? They certainly fade to the point of disappearing behind the one criterion that trumps all else: that the new bride must be scarred.”
“If it were up to me,” she goes on, “I’d teach my people about virtues to consider when choosing marriage partners – and the cut would not be one of them! If I were a man, I would want an educated wife, not a subordinate I had bought for dowry. Any man’s refusal to marry an intact girl reflects poorly on him for disrespecting children and their rights. And if he really wants her brutal mutilation, what kind of husband will he be? Will he continue his ruthless demands? Insist she obey? Make her suffer for his ego and his pleasure?
“FGM is diabolical in that it causes a child to think like a man. Convinced that he’s right, the best she can imagine is serving him in marriage; persuaded that, when at seven, or ten, or even thirteen, a body part comes off, she’s ready for wifehood. What about making her wholesome instead? Nurturing talent, intellect and skill – all that is left out.”
Yesterday, November 24, the Guardian praised Yahya Jammeh, president of the Gambia, for outlawing FGM. So close to an election, he could be risking votes, some have averred. Or he could be a canary in the mine, sensing that if the percentage of Gambians favoring clitoral ablations has receded, thanks perhaps to Jaha Dukureh’s campaign, he is taking a welcome lead. Good news?
Kiminta, at least, wouldn’t be surprised. Male violence can, after all, be successfully opposed by men.
Maria Kiminta and Tobe Levin. Kiminta. A Maasai’s Fight against Female Genital Mutilation. Memoir and Sourcebook. Frankfurt am Main: UnCUT/VOICES P. 2015.
Kate Lyons. „The Gambia bans female genital mutilation” http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/nov/24/the-gambia-bans-female-genital-mutilation
Retrieved 25 November 2015.