Photo credit: Becky Sell
By Diane Cole
At age 9, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete ran away from home so she wouldn’t have her genitalia cut as part of a coming-of-age ceremony.
For her defiance, she was shunned by family and community.
That was 16 years ago. The ritual cutting away of part or all of the external female genitalia continues in force around the world. A new UNICEF report estimates that at least 200 million women alive today have undergone what’s known as female genital mutilation (FGM).
But now there’s a concerted effort to convince communities that Nice Nailantei Leng’ete was right — and that there’s a way to mark a girl’s maturity without cutting. On February 7, International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Ban Ki-moon, chief of the United Nations, called for “a better way” than the ritual cutting away of part or all of the external female genitalia. The U.N. has described the practice as “violent” and a violation of the rights of girls and women.
Still, resistance remains in some cultures and communities. This week, two American gynecologists published an article in the British medical journal Journal of Medical Ethics, proposing a “compromise solution” that would permit minimal female genital “nicks” that would “accommodate cultural beliefs while protecting the physical health of girls, but would proscribe those forms of FGA that are dangerous or that produce significant sexual or reproductive dysfunction.”
Are such nicks “a better way”?
Dr. Githinji Gitahi doesn’t believe so. He’s a physician with a specialty in OB-GYN and a leader in the group Amref Health Africa. “It’s important to understand that FGM has no medical benefits and as such, to advocate for any form of it is to miss the point,” he wrote in an email. “FGM is a harmful practice which results in numerous medical complications including severe bleedings, infection, blockage of the urinary tract with renal complications and even death and later in life may result in inability to deliver normally.”
In fact, some communities are embracing ceremonies that do away with all cutting.
The new traditions are taking hold in Maasai and Samburu communities in Kenya and Tanzania. After two or three days of preparatory sessions for the girls, the celebration culminates with communal singing and dancing and blessings by the village elders, who pour a mixture of milk and honey and water over the heads of the girls. Goats and cows are slaughtered for specially prepared stews or roasts. Traditional beer is brewed for the men to drink. The young women don multicolored clothing and decorative beads that dangle from their heads and hang around their necks.
Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.