Opinion

Doctors advocate for FGM: Where did we go wrong?

EA women in perspective

 

Tools used for female genitals cut often practiced among pastoralist communities in many African countries. PHOTO | AGENCY

January 26, 2018

By Anne Kiruku

East African News Agency

In a most embarrassing, shameful and uncalled for turn of events, a female doctor in Kenya has moved to court seeking to have female circumcision legalised.

To add insult to injury, Marakwet professionals and elders are now backing Dr Tatu Kamau. The Marakwet, one of the ethnic groups in Kenya where FGM is deeply rooted, has benefited from an aggressive campaign to sensitise the community on the dangers of FGM. And just when the war is being won, talks on legalising the cut have hit the airwaves.

It is quite a shame that a medical doctor – and a woman, who should understand best the medical dangers associated with the cut, and who should be in the forefront in sensitising communities on the dangers of the practice – should be instead leading a campaign for its legalisation.

A six-year-old Somali girl screams in pain while undergoing circumcision at Hargeisa. Her sister tightly holds her, lest she moves. PHOTO | AP

What those championing legalising of the practice should be reminded is that FGM violates, among other international human rights laws, the right of the child to the “enjoyment of the highest attainable standards of health” as laid down in article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The argument fronted by the doctor – that outlawing female circumcision goes against the cultures of many African communities – is weak and holds no water.

The female cut is among the worst forms of retrogressive cultural practices that belong to the Stone Age and that should be done away with and fought in all possible ways.

If the doctor is genuine and sincere about reinstating African traditions and cultures, she should as well campaign for wife inheritance, killing of twins, stoning of promiscuous women, early marriages, and violence against women, among other repugnant practices from a bygone era.

In fact, the petition should also seek to legalise virginity tests, foot binding, female infanticide, dowry deaths, son preference, nutritional taboos, and widowhood practices, if really the doctor is sincere in her calls to reinstitute African traditions.

The dangers associated with FGM cannot be overemphasised: From medical to psychological, mental to social, the dangers are myriad.

Female genital mutilation is an age-old practice conducted by some communities where the whole or part of the most sensitive female genital organs are surgically removed with the hope of controlling the young girls’ sexual drive, in the hope of ensuring a woman stays virgin before marriage and remains chaste thereafter.

It is paramount for people to know that women have a right to control their own fertility. Any practice that violates the status, dignity and health of women should remain where it belongs – in the Stone Age.

Maasai girls mark their womanhood without experiencing female genital cut during a rite passage ceremony at Loitokitok in Kenya, near the border with Tanzania. With their traditional elders present, the ceremony symbolised a new beginning and the girls served as advocates against Female Genital Mutilation. PHOTO | AMREF CANADA

In this day and age, what the doctor should be agitating for is provision of necessary support to victims of harmful practices through basic services such as health, legal and judicial support, emotional and psychological counseling.

Those really committed to the wellbeing of women should be at the forefront in championing vocational training to the many victims of FGM so as to make them self-reliant and help integrate them in society without stigma or fear of victimisation.

With the rise in maternal deaths due to dysmenorrhea, obstructed labour and postpartum haemorrhage – all of which are more prevalent among women who have undergone the female cut – sensitising citizens on the dangers of FGM is a prerequisite to winning the battle.

The dangers women are exposed to during the practice, where they are cut without anaesthesia and using unsterilized surgical equipment by quacks in the name of traditional health experts – only makes a bad situation worse.

Rescue of a 14-year-old Tanzanian girl from female genital cut and marriage should deter others. PHOTO | CITIZEN TV

The chronic pain that these women go through and the resulting psychological trauma – as well as abnormalities in the female sexual function – should not be exposed to anyone.

It is commendable that most East African Community partner states have outlawed the practice. The challenge is in ensuring that the law is strictly followed since most parents collude with law enforcers and traditional circumcisers to continue the practice.

Lack of sufficient budgetary allocation to raise awareness on the dangers of FGM and to conduct thorough community outreach programmes has further compounded the problem.

It is unfortunate that most awareness programmes have been left to non-governmental organisations, who more often than not have to rely on donor funding.

Partner states must remain vigilant if the dignity of women is to be restored and sustained. This cannot be achieved in an environment where retrogressive cultural practices that dehumanise and humiliate women continue to reign supreme.

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