Female genital mutilation is not about adults and their freedoms

Wednesday March 18 2020

Abigail Arunga


This year, much like 2017 and the years and years before then, is not proving to have started out as a particularly great year for women.

I will talk about two things this week, the first being our consistent battle with modernity. Just call us Okonkwo. Already we have misguided traditionalism taking the place of logic and good sense in the form of a proclaimed medical doctor on a campaign to completely destroy our perception of what the Hippocratic Oath is supposed to entail – that is, to do no harm.

Africa still, unfortunately, has a long way to go regarding female genital mutilation. It's an internationally problematic NGO agenda, for a number of reasons – they don't have any idea how to stop it, what they're coming up against, and even a basic understanding of what this whole process means to our culture – the idea that it is a rite of passage enmeshed in centuries of tradition, a tradition that, unfortunately, we refuse to let go of.


Tradition isn't a bad thing in itself, obviously, but it's the 21st century, and some things need to go.

Tell that to this good doctor, who told the Nation that when people are adults, they should be allowed to do what they want with their bodies. “Speaking to the Press after filing the case, Dr [Tatu] Kamau said the outlawing of female circumcision is against the culture of many African communities and should be reviewed. She said all females, especially adults, should be allowed to make choices regarding their bodies without being restricted by legislation.”

Let me say from the get-go that I am already biased against this type of thinking, if I am being perfectly honest. And if we are being perfectly honest, the women who are being circumcised are not always – in fact, are not usually, I dare say – in a place where they can take the opportunity to make a choice like that.


Dr Kamau says that all females, especially adults, should be allowed to make choices. Of course females should be allowed to make choices! That's the point of feminism, right? The central ideal of choice, as it were, is to decide what you want to do with your body and when you want to do it.

I do not think, however, that this choice should extend to minors, who, statistically, are the ones who are largely undergoing this procedure. Who exactly are we making this practice legal for? Before the cut, are girls – not the adult ones who take themselves to hospital, I'm talking about the younger ones who are below the age of 18 – asked if this is something they want to do? And do we really think that those who quite possibly don't know any better would not acquiesce to this practice?

I don't see why they wouldn't. You're brought up being told that this is what makes you a real woman, like the monthly period, or finally having The Talk with your mother. Why would you refuse?


You wouldn't. And I don't know how they would ask permission for the cut, so to speak. I mean, how many teenage girls can adequately answer the question, “Do you have much use for your labia majora, or can we just lop a bit of the top?”

I would argue that adulthood does not and cannot mean complete freedom of choice, and freedom from the consequences of your choices. This is a dicey area for me, of course, because legislating choice is where this whole fight for democracy and changes to our Constitution came about in the first place. However, regardless of what I feel about choices other people make, they still have a right to make those choices.

Sure, you can decide to kill someone, but that doesn't mean someone isn't going to catch up with you – whether the long arm of the law, or the epitome of vengeance. Sure, you have a choice to drink all night on a weekday, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee that you won't lose your job when you stagger into the office the next day, eyes bloodshot and reeking.


There are things that even adults should be stopped from doing. Just because you are an adult, and you can choose, doesn't mean that you will always choose what is right, or upstanding, or logical, whether according to you or according to members of society. But you have every right to go ahead and do it.

Now, according to this member of society, the practice of mutilating the genitals of young girls is wrong. If you're an adult, do what you like. But if you aren't, this makes no sense to me. This is a custom that should be stopped, immediately if I had anything to do with it. We need to find alternative rites of passage and change how we look at our entries into adulthood.

And this fallacy about how its being illegal is taking away our rights over our bodies is completely misappropriated in this scenario. This isn't about adults and our freedoms. We're clear on that part. No, this is about those people who don't have any of those freedoms of choice we so idealistically speak about.

Twitter: @AbigailArunga