Maryam Sheikh Abdi was only six when she was “led to the slaughterhouse for the cut”. This is how she describes her Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) ordeal in her heart-wrenching poem, ‘The Cut’.
In the second stanza, she lays bare the conflict of emotions she went through: ‘Deep within me was the desire to be cut / as pain was my destiny: it is the burden of femininity / so I was told. These painful thoughts and the desire to fit in – even if it meant undergoing unimaginable pain – is shared by girls and women across the world.
Now in her 40s, Ms Abdi told the Daily Nation in a past interview that her community (she’s a devout Muslim from Somalia but grew up in Garissa) practices infibulation, which she explained is cutting out the clitoris and labia of a girl or woman and stitching together the edges of the vulva to prevent sexual intercourse.
According to the World Health Organisation, infibulation is the most severe form of FGM. The mother of two said she hoped to see the day the world would be free of FGM but if Dr Tatu Kamau has anything to do with it, people like Ms Abdi and 200 million girls and women who have undergone the cut across the globe will not see that day.
In what will go down in history as one of the most outrageous and despicable acts against women, Dr Kamau, a physician, filed a bizarre petition to overturn Kenya’s Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act in 2017.
She suggested that “adult women should be left to enjoy their rights to culture and to be allowed to conduct female genital mutilation” because it’s part of our heritage.
Maybe she forgot that our heritage is not about complications during childbirth, anaemia, cysts and abscesses, urinary incontinence and painful sexual intercourse, among a host of other complications that FGM brings.
Calling the term FGM a Western misnomer and with no scientific backing to prove her wild claims, she testified during the court case in October 2019 that cut women “are more fertile and don’t bother their husbands for sex”.
One need not be any kind of activist to smell the stench of misogyny and patriarchy packed neatly in those few words, which sufficiently label women who, for one reason or the other are infertile, or who have a healthy, normal sexual appetite as “others”, social pariahs, rebels, undeserving to be called women. In short? Women who need to be cut so they could toe the line to meet backward cultural demands.
MAKE A CHOICE
One might argue that Dr Kamau is not talking about children like Ms Abdi but about adults who can make a choice.
But the idea of choice here is ludicrous because research has shown that even adult women who “choose” to undergo the cut do so in response to a culture that stigmatises them and finds them revolting if they don’t, leaving them between a humongous rock and a very, very sharp razor blade.
And even if Dr Kamau is not championing infibulation, the dreadful effects of FGM remain the same.
If it worries you in any way that what the doctor is advocating is the epitome of delusion, you’re not alone. She’s found herself on the wrong side of public opinion and is fighting a lonely battle. But maybe there’s something else beneath the rough exterior of delusion.
Perhaps Dr Kamau is screaming for help through this attention-seeking stunt. She might be a victim of a culture that delights in oppressing women because in its true form, FGM is less about clitoridectomy, excision or infibulation and more the pernicious effects of a culture of violence and discrimination against women. FGM tells women that they don’t own their bodies, and this is dangerous.
Rubber-stamping FGM as an act that’s good for women makes the doctor blatantly complicit in perpetuating a culture of patriarchy. Legalising FGM would open the floodgates of other forms of violence and discrimination against women. It’s akin to punching women and kicking them, then watching them fall face-first into a deep, dark hole of oppression.
The writer is the editor, ‘Living Magazine’; [email protected]