I was surprised the other day as I was talking to my friend, a man from one of the few Kenyan communities where FGM is still practiced. First, I was surprised at how little he seemed to know about the procedure. When I explained the details to him, he was taken aback.
“That can’t be right,” he told me.
Why? The procedures I was explaining can’t be right because women from his community are happy to get married and they are happy to have sex. They also have children.
Talking with him, I realised just how many assumptions we have been making regarding this very important subject. We carry on campaigns, say that FGM is painful, that it interferes with a woman’s sexuality and motherhood experience. We assume that everyone knows the details – after all, this is a conversation we have been having for decades. This got me thinking; maybe, just maybe, if everyone knew the gory details, we would have many more people fighting for the girls and women who are being cut today.
HOW MUCH DOES THE MAN KNOW?
To be fair, we have been having conversations about FGM. Even Government institutions and NGOs have become more vigilant. Lots of girls and women have been saved. But could we be overlooking the one group of people who could stop this practice altogether?
This holiday season is the most notorious period of the year for the cut for both boys and girls. If you have been following up on news stories, you have seen three or four incidents when girls were rescued from circumcision. You also noticed that those doing these busts were led mostly women.
You could say that FGM is a woman’s problem because it happens to her. The truth is most of our laws and customs were founded on patriarchy. It was a man’s world long before the first white man set his foot in Kenya. If you can get the men to speak out actively, if you can get fathers to pay attention, to know the details and make the informed decision against this practice for their daughters, then this war will be as good as won. If patriarchy started this cruel practice, patriarchy can end it.
Men listen to other men more than they do women. A father is more likely to listen to another man telling him that this practice is retrogressive and harmful for his daughter than he will listen to a woman. Case in point, if you tell a man who is pursuing you romantically that you are in another relationship, he is likely to leave you alone not because of respect for you but because of the respect he has for the man you are dating. This is true even in other areas of life. Get more men condemning this act and see the numbers of these secretive, hurried and deadly cuts go down.
Talk to the girls, talk to parents likely to arrange FGM for their daughters. But also talk to the men. Even the ones you think should already know.