No FGM, no marriage: The lies entrenched in tradition

An official from Plan International Kenya engages with  elderly women on FGM and the lies behind it, in Wayu Village, Tana River County.

Photo credit: Stephen Oduor | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Ms Barisa, an FGM victim from Tana River County, says after the cut, they were trained on how to be a  submissive wife.
  • Those who underwent the cut boasted about it and the joy in their parents’ faces was loud and clear.
  • The respect they were accorded by other women and grown men would inspire one to beg for the cut.

At the age of six years, Fathma Barisa*(not her real name) was a candidate for an archaic tradition in a secluded area in the bushes of Wayu Village in Tana River County.

She had just undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and the next phase involved training on how to be a good and submissive wife, as well as a radical warrior of the outdated tradition.

"Nobody could marry you if you had not undergone the cut, we longed for it and could even demand it when our mates went for it," she says.

Those who underwent the cut boasted about it and the joy in their parents’ faces was loud and clear.

The respect they were accorded by other women and grown men would inspire one to beg for the cut. They were allowed to attend ceremonies the uncircumcised could not come near.

"There are secrets only known to those who have undergone the cut, traditional functions that can only be attended by the circumcised, and conversations that only the circumcised can be part of," says the 36-year-old.

The cut was a dream of every woman then, and the pain associated with it was the joy of the candidates, their parents, and the village.

Brainwash victims

However, behind the counselling sessions after the cut are not just normal conversations, but toxic pieces of advice meant to brainwash the victims.

The trainers, elderly and middle-aged women have one assignment in the exercise, to make a brainwashed slave out of innocent children.

"As much as they teach about a good wife, it is not based on values as in the Holy books, but rather pegged on expectations of whoever you shall be married to, silence towards domestic violence is taught as a virtue a good wife must have," she narrates.

Ms Barisa says the girls are taught to withstand pain and expect pain as they grow, they are made to understand that they only have an opinion where other women sit. An opinion in a meeting of men is considered arrogance and is punishable.

They are also taught to be hardy and serve as directed, without complaints.

The word consent is not for the woman, hence they are informed that consent is left for the man and only he has the power to decide in all circumstances.

"Our women will never talk to you before the husband gives permission, and sometimes you see the men supervise what she says in a conversation with a stranger," she says.

Secrecy of domestic issues is regarded as maturity even in the event of domestic violence.

Harmful

"Many men take their women to the bush from the village where they tie them to a tree and whip them before abandoning them there for their mothers to rescue them and take them back home," she notes.

From the seclusion, the girls feel and think differently, their minds intoxicated with disinformation can only race towards marriage.

This has resulted in many dropping out of school to be married at a tender age, while the few who remain in school to pursue their dreams, are under a lot of pressure from relatives in the village hence, depression.

Rukia Hagobu ,a midwife in Wayu village, Tana River County. She says the teachings circumcised girls get while in seclusion are not healthy and make them defiant to change.

Photo credit: Stephen Oduor | Nation Media Group

Rukia Hagobu, a transformed midwife confesses that the teachings circumcised girls get while in seclusion are not healthy and make them defiant to change.

"That is why it is difficult to incorporate a different story to get rid of the cut unless the surgeons and we, the midwives, speak against it, it will not end anytime soon," she says.

The midwife who has witnessed many die while giving birth as a result of the cut, notes that credits attributed to the cut are lies and need to be reversed.

"We have told these narratives to generations, but the truth is they are harmful and I have lived long enough to see the effects, I have buried some of my victims at a very young age," she notes.

A report by Plan International says thousands of girls are traumatized as a result of the cut hence, affecting their academic activities.

The report notes that out of 100 circumcised girls in arid and semi-arid areas, less than 40 transition to secondary education and less than 15 proceed to university.

Self-esteem

The majority fall under the pressure and expectations of relatives and friends and hence, get married.

This later affects their livelihood and causes emotional imbalance and inspires low self-esteem.

The organization has, thus, devised other measures to tackle the vice.

According to the Country Director for Plan International Kenya Atieno Onyonyi, the organization has shifted the conversation from the victims to the perpetrators.

"We are engaging the traditional surgeons, the midwives, and the elders so that we can debunk the lies associated with this narrative, and they share that with the youth," she says.

The group, she says, holds the authority hence, can withdraw the narrative and set the truth on record to free the generation that has lived on the foundation of wrong perceptions.


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