Posts Tagged With: african women

The History Of Female Circumcision (FGM)

In the late 1990’s the Project LAG in Nara started a sensibilisation programme to fight against the practice of female circumcision in the villages of our intervention zone (commonly called FGM Female Genital Mutilation in the Western world).

It was a daring undertaking, that had the potential to ruin the success of the project in no time and make us loose all the trust from the inhabitants of the villages, that we had gained over the years. Trust and cooperation are the essential ingredients to make a development project work. Many heated discussions, if we should or should not engage openly in such an activity, had taken place before. Female circumcision is a religious, cultural and symbolic concept and its practice has its origin thousands of years back.

On the field-level and grass-root level Fatoumata Couliably and myself were responsible for the implementation of this programme. But the whole team was involved in developing a strategy for this complex and delicate topic.  I could write an entire book about what I  learned and heard from Fatime and  the women in the villages concerning the practice of female circumcision. I could write an entire book about the emotions, the fear, the pain and the pride as well, that many women surprisingly still felt instead of all the hardship they had been put through by their mothers and grandmothers.

” The problem will be,” said Cheik Camara, the eldest and wisest of the team members, ” to convince the mothers. It is much more difficult to convince the women to give it up than the men. It has nothing to do with Islam either. It is much deeper”.

I could tell so many intimiate, moving and emotional stories of circumcised and excised Malian women and girls. And I will come to that point, but however today I have compiled a ” more scientific summary” to enable readers to first understand the history, the symbolism, the different practices and the health consequences surrounding FGM because it is no ” easy” concept at all.

Over 90% of the women in Mali are still being circumcised or excised today.

FGM is considered by its practitioners to be an essential part of raising a girl properly—girls are regarded as having been cleansed by the remove of all “male” body parts. It ensures pre-marital virginity and inhibits extra-marital sex, because it reduces women’s libido. Women fear the pain of re-opening the vagina, and are afraid of being discovered if it is opened illicitly

Definition: Female Circumcision or Female Genital Mutialtion (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision  is defined by the World Health Organization  (WHO) as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

The word “mutilation” differentiates the procedure from male circumcision and stresses its severity

The WHO has offered four classifications of FGM. They are classified as follows:

Type I, removal of the clitoral hood, almost invariably accompanied by removal of the clitoris itself (clitoridectomy)

Type II, removal of the clitoris and inner labia.  This type of FGM is also often called excision in West- Africa.

Type III (infibulation), removal of all or part of the inner and outer labia, and usually the clitoris, and the fusion of the wound, leaving a small hole for the passage of urine and menstrual blood—the fused wound is opened for intercourse and childbirth. Type III, commonly called infibulation or pharaonic circumcision, is the removal of all external genitalia. The inner and outer labia are cut away, with or without excision of the clitoris. The girl’s legs are then tied together from the the hip to ankle for up to 40 days to allow the wound to heal. The immobility causes the labial tissue to bond, forming a wall of flesh and skin across the entire vulva, apart from a hole the size of a matchstick for the passage of urine and menstrual blood, which is created by inserting a twig or rock salt into the wound. There is another form of Type III called matwasat, where the stitching of the vulva is less extreme and the hole left is bigger.

In Type 3 excision or infibulation elderly women, relatives and friends secure the girl in the lithotomy position. A deep incision is made rapidly on either side from the root of the clitoris to the fourchette, and a single cut of the razor excises the clitoris and both the labia majora and labia minora.

Bleeding is profuse, but is usually controlled by the application of various poultices, the threading of the edges of the skin with thorns, or clasping them between the edges of a split cane. A piece of twig is inserted between the edges of the skin to ensure a patent foramen for urinary and menstrual flow. The lower limbs are then bound together for 2–6 weeks to promote haemostatis and encourage union of the two sides. Healing takes place by primary intention, and, as a result, the introitus is obliterated by a drum of skin extending across the orifice except for a small hole. Circumstances at the time may vary; the girl may struggle ferociously, in which case the incisions may become uncontrolled and haphazard. The girl may be pinned down so firmly that bones may fracture.

Around 85 percent of women who undergo FGM experience Types I and II, and 15 percent Type III.

Type III is the most common procedure in several countries, including Sudan, Somalia, and Djibouti. Several miscellaneous acts are categorized as Type IV. These range from a symbolic pricking or piercing of the clitoris or labia, to cauterization of the clitoris, cutting into the vagina to widen it (gishiri cutting), and introducing corrosive substances to tighten it.

FGM is typically carried out on girls from a few days old to puberty. It may take place in a hospital, but is usually performed, without anaesthesia, by a traditional circumciser using a knife, razor, or scissors. According to the WHO, it is practiced in 28 countries in western, eastern, and north-eastern Africa, in parts of the Middle East, and within some immigrant communities in Europe, North America, and Australasia.

The WHO estimates that 100–140 million women and girls around the world have experienced the procedure, including 92 million in Africa. The practise is carried out by some communities who believe it reduces a woman’s libido.

The vulva is cut open for sexual intercourse and childbirth. In some communities, when a pregnant woman who has not experienced FGM goes into labour, the procedure is performed before she gives birth, because it is believed the baby may be stillborn if it touches her clitoris. The risk of haemorrhage and death from FGM during labour is high.

During three six-month studies in the 1980s, Hanny Lightfoot-Klein interviewed 300 Sudanese women and 100 Sudanese men, and described the penetration by the men of their wives’ infibulation:

“The penetration of the bride’s infibulation takes anywhere from 3 or 4 days to several months. Some men are unable to penetrate their wives at all (in my study over 15%), and the task is often accomplished by a midwife under conditions of great secrecy, since this reflects negatively on the man’s potency. Some who are unable to penetrate their wives manage to get them pregnant in spite of the infibulation, and the woman’s vaginal passage is then cut open to allow birth to take place. A great deal of marital anal intercourse takes place in cases where the wife can not be penetrated—quite logically in a culture where homosexual anal intercourse is a commonly accepted premarital recourse among men—but this is not readily discussed. Those men who do manage to penetrate their wives do so often, or perhaps always, with the help of the “little knife.” This creates a tear which they gradually rip more and more until the opening is sufficient to admit the penis. In some women, the scar tissue is so hardened and overgrown with keloidal formations that it can only be cut with very strong surgical scissors, as is reported by doctors who relate cases where they broke scalpelsin the attempt.”

The term “pharaonic circumcision”  stems from its practice in Ancient Egypt under the rule of the Pharaohs.”Fibula” (in “infibulation”) refers to the Romanpractice of piercing the outer labia with a fibula or brooch. Genitally-mutilated females have been found among Egyptia mummies.

It is said as well  that the common attribution of the procedure to Islam is unfair because it is a much older phenomenon.

What has been summarised and said about FGM in this post is compatible with my findings and experience from the  encounters I had with the girls and women from our project zone.

I have written this post today because my friend and old collegue Cheik Fadel has send me a website link two weeks ago. I am very pleased to see that the awareness what FGM is, is growing and that more and more women and men are joining the activismn against its practice.

      Here is another wordpres site about female excision that you can follow

http://marcheencorps.wordpress.com/lexcision/

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Categories: Africa, female circumcision, Nara, West Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Throughout Her Life, A Woman Is Owned By Three Men

Three men own a woman throughout her life

I had become very close with Salif. He worked and lived in Nara for the same project as I did. Most of our free time after work and at the weeks-ends we spent together, philosophing in a shady place over the problems of the African continent and the possible solutions to them. More than once we got lost in stimulating conversations that lasted for hours.

One afternoon after work I was sitting in his yard, while he was preparing the tea on his small coal stove, listening to the sounds of Baaba Mal, coming out of the tape-recorder. Baaba Mal sounded a bit metallic that day, due to the quality of the tape recorder and the force of the 12 Volt battery, that had reached the last hours of its working life. New batteries had not yet arrived from Bamako because the truck was “en panne” ( break down ) on the road since the day before and was still in the same place some hundred kilometers away.

Our topic for this afternoon, that I had started, was the plight of African women in rural areas. One of the first things, that I noticed, when coming to Nara, was how incredibly hard the women worked. And I also noticed that in most cases it was accepted and expected that they carried huge loads on their heads, walked  to the well to fetch water, sweeped, washed, cleaned, were sent on commisisons to the market over and over again, worked into the late evening hours etc. In one word a woman’s job. Just that a woman’s job in rural Africa is so much harder than a woman’s job in any other place in this world.

Salif  listened attentively to my perception of the situation.

” I agree, he said, but you know here we say, that a woman is owned by three men throughout the span of her life”.

” Explain”.

” The first man that owns you is your father. When a girl is born she belongs to her father in our tradition. Then, when she gets married, she is owned by her husband. Her father does hand her over to her husband and his responsibility for her ceases at that moment. The husband takes over. And the last who owns her, is her son. This ownership you must not only see as a physical and autoritarian one, but it is also a mental and psychological one. “

The moment he had finished the sentence my mind drifted off and went on a journey of its own.

” A woman will never be free of the influence these three men have on her and her life, and that is the real plight a woman is living in my eyes”, I still heard him say.” in Mali it is still difficult for a woman to survive on her own without a man. The concept of feminine freedom is not the same for her as the concept of feminine freedom is for you. These are two entirely different things in this world.”

I had come a long way so far. I had a long road behind me to come to Nara. I thought of the months I had stayed in Berlin to prepare for this job with the organization that had hired me. I had given up my flat, my work, had sold everything. I had moved into a residence with many others, who went to developing countries all over the world. I owned nothing anymore except clothes. And we were all prepared for a job, that you cannot prepare for. That I know now!

In Berlin, in the multicultural melting pot, in the open-hearted and pulsating metropole I had seen gay and lesbian couples walking freely hand in hand on the streets, committing to their relationship in public without making a topic out of it anymore or without even showing the slightest sign of insecurity. I had seen beautiful women and men with a new understanding of freedom in their eyes. You could feel the freedom.  The idea of the nucleus family has faded to a large extent in Europe and in fact it does not interest many people anymore to talk about how the once classical roles in European societies have changed. Not that family values are not important anymore, just that the roles been inversed or completely reformed.

I put my head back and closed my eyes. Why does something that is so right and is the norm, feel completely wrong in another place. And why do his words seem to be so true.

” Are you alright “, Salif asked.

” Yes, yes , I am”. I was looking at the changing colors of the sky. A thin line of pink appeared over the trees and the air smelled of dust.

” When I talked of ownership, he added, it does not mean that it has to be seen in a negative way. It is not necessarily a negative thing. I know there are men who do not treat their women well. We do not approve of that in our society either, but it is hard to deal with. It is just a fact, that a woman is never entirely free in her decisions because these three men, father, husband and son are with her forever. Even if her husband is dead, her son takes that role. So when is she ever free of a man’s influence. “

” Only when there is no man anymore, I guess, is that what you saying “‘

” May be, he replied, but is it worth it?

Categories: Africa, Mali, Nara, People, Sahel, Tradition, West Africa, women | Tags: , | Leave a comment

And Aicha Cooked !

Aicha cooked up a storm in my kitchen everyday !

” I don’t get it,” a friend of mine said, “you and that girl from Niger, whats her name ? Your best friend ? You two, you seem to be the only ones who are picking up weight in Mali ?

” Martina, her name is Martina, ” I replied a little thoughtful because he had rightfully told the truth.

It was obvious! I was picking up a kilogram for every year because AICHA CCOOKED ! Aicha cooked up a storm in my kitchen day and night.  After having employed a life time guard, my resistence to having further people around me and taking over necessary daily tasks had been broken down by African logic and was close to zero.  A personel guard could not be topped! Or only by a cook !

In my first week in Nara, a young woman had been coming to my house for three consecutive days to see me. The first two days I had stayed too long at the office and she was already gone when I came home which was not good, so I was told by Kodjo, but on the third day she was still sitting in front of my house when I hurried home earlier from work not to upset Kodjo again.  Aicha ! A beautiful name and a beautiful woman.

” Aicha wants to cook for you ” , Kodjo said. ” She is a good cook, and you have to eat. “

That was definitely true and I had not been eating a lot these last exciting days. So what the heck, let her cook, I thought. Aicha had a tiny baby, named Moussa and now my houdehold counted already three – not including the animals like Egon, the water-fetching donkey and the young but growing chicken family.

Busy Monday in Nara

Aicha visited every day the Nara market, understandably preferring the food and kitchenalia line, bringing home whatever she needed to make us a healthy Sahel meal.

She had a budget to buy groceries and meat that she used during the whole month and the money was better guarded than a donation box in a catholic church in Poland.

For lunch she usually prepared rice with different Malian traditional sauces or stews everyday. In the evening there was grilled chicken, grilled fish or beef skewers with fried potatoes, vegetables or sometimes salad. And no I did not get sick from the salad. The menu could also offer couscous. Except for the meat and the onions none of the ingredients were familiar to me. It did not matter. She made ginger juices, prepared her own chilli paste, called piment in Nara. She baked maize bread. Cooked with red palm oil.

She made a sauce from Baobab leaves. Cooked with Cassava and bananas. Huge bananas!

Made a peanut butter sauce with chicken and chilli ! YES!!

It did not occur to me that my colleagues did not eat twice a day hot opulent meals. If you have Aicha ! You love Aicha !

Me fiddling with the connection of the gas stove assisted by Martha, the Sahel hound

With the equipment I had received cooking did not always go smooth. Even Martha the Sahel hound ( I will tell her story a little later ) could not help at times.  It was my employers philosophy that technical advisors in developing countries should not display too much luxury. No luxury at all in fact.  And indeed nobody had a gas stove in Nara.

But Aicha cooked ! And she took this task serious. Very serious!  After a while she cooked on fire and then the food got even better. Fresh, lovingly prepared food. Aicha’s cooking became famous in Bamako because colleagues and friends visiting me and not living the same culinary pleasures as I did, told wondrous stories about Aicha’s meals.

Aicha starting to cook at night, preparing a meal for Nara dignitaries

Aicha’s cooking was so tasteful and amazing that I could negotiate more than once a reduction in consultants fees for training and other educational measures in Nara when meals were included in the payment. Aicha’s meals! Aicha cooked at night for guests and Nara dignitaires. Aicha had a calling and followed through with it.

I did not mention that Aicha was a traditional healer as well!

Categories: Africa, Baobab, Mali, Nara, Nature, West Africa, women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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