26 August 2012

Tanzania: It's Much More Than Just a Cut


This week my daughter was all worked up over an essay assignment the class teacher had given her class. I think it was because it was the first essay she was doing and she felt it was an impossible task.

I had no idea what the topic was, but she kept on reminding me of the dreaded essay that did not seem to have a theme.

Finally cornering me she revealed the topic and guess what it was! 'The impact of female circumcision'. My immediate reaction was wow that is a mouthful.

I asked her if the same teacher had taught her the class anything on the topic and she answered that the only things she told them was that it was done on girls at the age of 18 and the knives used for female circumcision are usually shared. She complained that the boys in the class teased the girls over the subject.

Feeding her with more details and more accurate data she was shocked to learn that female circumcision is often done on girls between the ages of seven and 12 and that in some cases even baby girls are circumcised. When I added that thorns are sometimes used to hold the wound together she stared at me as if I was mad.

Through the shocks and a dozen questions the essay was done but I was rather disappointed that the teacher who gave them the interesting homework did not turn up in class. My daughters essay reminded me of the time I as a writer was commissioned to write about the practice almost 18 years ago.

It was amazing as to how much I learnt by the end of the assignment. Visiting a rather unfriendly elderly lady from a community that does not only cut off the most sensitive part of a woman's anatomy but end up sewing down there; she asked me point blank if I did not feel dirty since I was not circumcised.

I answered not at all and wanted to add that where I come from we extend the anatomy and not chop it off. A younger lady from the same community who was rather full of life told me that as a result of the sewing up the monthly periods tend to be rather painful. This was before she explained to me that during child birth the scar is opened up and in some cases sewn up again after the baby is born. I did not want to believe this.

Much as the act is horrifying especially in the extreme scenario just described the whole idea that a woman's reproductive system is not considered a woman's own personal issue but a matter that becomes of interest to the whole community. In some communities uncircumcised girls are considered not good enough for marriage and it is everyone's business to know whether you are or not circumcised.

Sexual reproductive rights are human rights and the longer we take in eradicating the practice the longer we are taking in denying young girls one of their basic human rights.

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