It is nearly impossible to discuss the practice of female genital mutilation without eliciting reactions from both supporters and opposers of the practice. However, the health risks of female genital mutilation such as death, pregnancy risk, painful sexual experiences, difficulty with urination, menstrual issues far outweigh the benefits of continuing with the act. Although women are usually the female genital mutilation practitioners, the practice is aimed at making the sexual experience better for the man and to control the female body.
Woman is defined in terms of her differences from man. Man’s way of interacting with the environment is the norm and a woman’s way of interacting with her environment is perceived as emotional and unsuitable for the public. In order for woman to gain footholds in the society she must take up male characteristics.
Sexually, men and women are on the extremes of the continuum. If a woman has multiple sexual partners she is negatively branded as being promiscuous. In the same scenario, if a man has multiple sexual partners he is not negatively branded and may be praised for his conquests.
Even the slightest discussion of religion as one of the sources of patriarchy is deemed to be blasphemous in a religious household. The religious teachings on mankind’s fall from grace further demonstrates that women are viewed as the weaker sex that fell for the Serpent lies. Eve’s punishment for eating the forbidden fruit defines the woman in terms of her reproductive nature: painful childbirth and subjugation to her husband. In modern society, women are still seen as being inferior and a departure from the male norm. A woman’s sexuality is seen as perilous with the potential to devastate the lives of great men. This narrative is recurring when a woman is seen to have seduced a man and destroyed the man’s home and career thus relinquishing him of any responsibility for his actions. The World Health Organization estimates that 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide have been the victim of FGM. Female genital mutilation, footbinding, breast ironing, corseting are different practices than span dissimilar periods in time and geography. They share a common foundation of patriarchy’s invisible hand in the harm inflicted upon women and girls by other women. Women do not engage in these practices for their own benefit but rather for the benefit of man. Although the above practices are illegal they continue to be practiced, socially accepted and maintain legitimacy in the patriarchal society of the legal and political systems that should provide protection for all human beings. Women, because of their nurturing role in society, are expected to protect their children from all harm and are ultimately responsible for their well-being. In many of patriarchal societies, men dictate what is considered the virtuous and acceptable female image and characteristics. Control over every aspect of the woman is accepted and women gladly acquiesce in an attempt to gain higher societal status and to be deemed more acceptable for marriage.
Naomi N. Mwaura, One Billion Rising Coordinator-Kenya
The One Billion Rising, through its parent organization V-Day, supports several Safe Houses in the world. In Kenya, V-Day supports Narok Tasaru Ntomonok and Sakutiek Safehouses. Naomi Mwaura also runs Flone Initiative, an organization that supports social reforms and self reliance among Kenyans. You can follow us on @OBR-K and @FloNeInitiative.