A follow up from the first part of this essay.
Read: Female Genital Mutilation Thrives in Secrecy by Olutosin Oladasu Adebowale
This article (or series of articles – there are three in total) was sent to me by an awesome mentor of mine and it provides a close look at female genital cutting in south-western Nigeria. From what I can glean from the article, in this particular village in Oyo state, the practice may have begun only three or four generations ago, when Oloola Akande’s great-grandmother was the first Oloola or when his grandfather laid down the “law” that all female children must be cut. I’ve heard it said on more than one occasion that FGC is an old practice in different African societies, but just how old is it exactly? How and why did it start? It is questions like these that make me really wish the European colonists hadn’t wiped out our past system of griots so that our pre-colonial history wouldn’t be so much of a mystery today.
It is also interesting to note that in most of the societies I’ve heard of where FGC occurs, male circumcision is also practiced. However I don’t think that the reasons for the practice are the same for both sexes. What is the point of male circumcision anyway? While it may not be as traumatizing and physically consequential as female genital cutting (if it’s done early enough), does it actually serve a purpose other than a symbolic, cultural one? Why is the cutting of anyone’s genitals a thing that happens?
According to the article, apart from the ostensible reason of stifling/curtailing female sexuality, there are other factors that perpetuate FGC, namely monetary incentives and social prestige. The Oloolas in Oyo state are paid for their ”services” and occupy a highly regarded position of spiritual and social leadership. I wonder if this would be the same case if a)they found another lucrative endeavour or b) the people in the village thought to question the status quo. In the other villages and towns mentioned in parts 2 and 3 of the article, it is health-workers and pseudo-health workers who carry out the act, often in clandestine conditions and after money has exchanged hands. And in one or two cases cited, it was done by a seemingly “caring” family member for free. I think I have an easier time understanding the greedy financial incentives for the perpetuation of female genital cutting than the motives of those who think they’re doing their daughters a good turn. I suppose this is an illustration of the theory that what is considered “good” or ”bad” is highly subjective and varies from place to place.
Perhaps the forerunners of the movement to end this practice should, instead of outrightly opposing the practice, suggest that the age for cutting be moved up? There was mention of a woman who was 24 years old when she got cut, and she was happy to be rid of her clitoris/sexual desires. And I’m cool with that. As a very (in)famous person once said, “if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off” – though I’m not sure he was speaking literally. In any case, I think we should at least let the girls have the chance to “stumble” before we rob them of a (very intimate) body part. There is a tribe in Kenya, the Samburu, who practices female genital cutting on the day the young woman is to be wed1. Note that I said, “young woman” and not “girl”. While I don’t personally support the practice, I think that at least a young adult has more agency than a 3 or even 13-year-old girl. So if the age of the cut is moved up to say, 18, then at least those who don’t wish to be cut might have a fighting chance of opposing the system. I don’t know.
These are just some more of my thoughts on the issue. More thinking and research to be done…
Fratkin, Elliot. Laibon: An Anthropologist’s Journey with Samburu Diviners in Kenya. AltaMira Press, Maryland, 2011.