I came face to face with a shocking injustice on Month four of the Race.
Is there female circumcision in America?
Nearly every day I get asked this question at schools in Kenya, and it always takes me off guard. A large part of ministry here in Isebania, Kenya is going to local high schools to do programs, counsel and answer questions.
Usually students start by asking about food in America: if we have ugali (their staple food made out of corn) or kasava (sweet potato). I always laugh and smile when I explain the foods we eat and why we eat them. Then, quite suddenly, someone will ask about male and female circumcision in America. I explain that people can choose whether or not their sons will be circumcised; however, female circumcision is dangerous, illegal and a violation of human rights.
Yesterday, I was talking to a group of four girls who once again brought up the female circumcision question. I answered it explaining why it was wrong.
They all bowed their heads and were quiet until one of them said that all Kuria women are circumcised. I asked who the Kuria were and they gestured to themselves and all of Isebania saying, “All of us, we are all Kuria.”
My heart was immediately filled with compassion that this dangerous and fruitless procedure had been performed on the girls sitting right in front of me. I then felt slightly guilty that I spoke so negatively of female circumcision when these girls were living it.
As a missionary, we are taught to respect other cultures, no matter how crazy they may seem. This is a good rule, but there comes a point where you have to draw a line.
There is a fine line between cultural differences and things just being wrong. Female circumcision causes unnecessary severe physical and emotional harm with the purpose of keeping women in check.
According to WHO female circumcision, more commonly known as female genital mutilation (FGM), is a procedure that “intentionally alters or causes injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” These procedures have no health benefit and can cause severe pain, shock, hemorrhage, problems urinating, cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth increasing risk of newborn deaths. In addition to this, many young women experience emotional trauma from the procedure but are forced into it by their families.
Today, I asked our ministry contact about his experience with FGM. He told me that once every few years, leaders in the Kuria tribe (the majority of whom live in the city of Isebania) decide when and where to circumcise the women. In December, they take all girls aged 12-14 and mutilate their genitals.
After the procedure, the girls are dressed up with balloons and are forced to walk home, bleeding, as others dance around them to celebrate this rite of passage. Sometimes girls even bleed to death on their walk home.
Every December our Pastor hides girls in his church so they will not have to endure this fruitless procedure. He said the only reason it still continues today because it is a strong and ancient tradition of the Kuria people.
As much as I want to close my eyes and not say anything about it to avoid unneeded conflict, something needs to be said.
So here I am, saying something. FGM is not ok.
It’s not ok for 92 million girls in Africa to be living with the consequences of this procedure. It isn’t ok to celebrate a girl who has been mutilated as she hemorrhages on her walk home.
As horrible as this practice is, something can be done.
Many girls here are starting to question female circumcision simply through education. In fact, Pastor’s tribe had once practiced FGM, but it stopped in the 1970s when the tribal leaders were introduced to other cultures where this practice wasn’t as prevalent.
Ancient traditions and cultures are hard to change, but Pastor’s tribe shows that it is not impossible.
FGM is not some distant thing that doesn’t happen anymore, it is happening right in front of my eyes. And if you are reading this it means that it is happening right in front of your eyes too. Please don’t read this and think there is nothing you can do – you have a voice, so say something.
Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your leaders that FGM wasn’t just practiced in the 1800’s; it’s very much a part of African culture today. You would be amazed how American culture influences the rest of the world.
Better yet, go and visit Africa yourself and try to educate people – who knows how many girls you could spare of this procedure. Your voice is far more powerful than you think.
How can you stand up to the face of injustice while sitting at home.