Monday, 19 January 2015

The Battle Over Her Body

Late last year, a group of Samburu elders met together to deliberate on insecurity in their community. While discussing interventions that they would initiate, the group declared that FGM/C remained an important cultural practice that needs to continue. One man who was later interviewed affirmed the position of the group, going on to say that any child born of an uncircumcised woman would be killed. Covered by the Kenyan media, the encounter raised serious questions about the extent of FGM/C practice in the community. Even more worrying was the silence of both male and female leaders in the area who did not immediately condemn the stance of the 3,000 men present. However, the most shocking revelation was the callous manner in which the men insisted on the killing of children born to uncircumcised women.

Samburu Elders Endorse FGM as a Critical Cultural Rite.
Source: NTV

The statement may reveal the role of FGM/C in brokering access to sex and reproduction, or perhaps ensuring that children could only be born within a marriage relationship. Nevertheless, such cultural explanations have no place today. Instead, they underscore a double standard. The Samburu do not culturally value virginity, and uncircumcised girls are encouraged to have sexual relations with the Samburu morans. Such fraternizing can only increase the likelihood of an uncircumcised girl falling pregnant. Furthermore, the statement highlights how the Samburu woman's body has become a site for exploitation; for the fulfillment of men's vision for Samburu women. It's a statement reifying one of the feminist theories that has been applied to FGM/C - FGM/C as a sign of patriarchy and control of women's sexuality. 

Indeed, FGM/C, while practiced on women by women, is supported within a societal and cultural framework that includes men. Samburu girls not only undergo FGM/C, but a number are also subjected to early marriage, especially in the marginal areas. Advocating against FGM/C is thus not only mitigating physical and psycho-sexual consequences on the female body, but it's also encouraging the community to allow girls to own their bodies and their futures. It's welcoming women into the conversation around sex and reproduction that culture often deems to be the preserve of men. It's allowing our communities to take part in global conversations on women's rights and liberties, even while maintaining the cultural aspects that we collectively esteem. 

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