When I was twelve years old I was circumcised. I was circumcised because I wanted to be. My father, my mother, my priest and my community did not influence my decision or force my hand. I chose to because I knew that getting circumcised would decrease my chances of contracting HIV by 60% and living in a country where at that time one in three people were infected, I wanted to be safe.
Making that decision was one of the hallmark moments in my life because it was a liberating experience to know that I was in control of my own body and that I owned my sexuality as a man. After the procedure, my doctor told me that I would experience pain for at least two weeks but then after that I would be fine. He even said this would increase my libido. In that moment I did not understand what ‘libido’ meant but I was happy that it would increase!
Now, if I can choose whether or not I should get circumcised why can’t a young girl of twelve years make the same choice? Why can’t a girl choose NOT to get circumcised? Choose her sexuality? Choose her libido like me? In my own view, we should not allow female genital mutilation to continue in fear of our culture or religion.
Religion and culture drive us to commit egregious inhumane acts without questioning and female genital mutilation, commonly and erroneously referred to as female circumcision, is one of them. According to Mona Eltahawy in her recent Op-Ed about Female Genital Mutilation in the New York Times, female circumcision is an act that strips women of their basic human right and denies them ownership to their sexuality. Eltahawy states that “125 million women worldwide have undergone genital cutting” and these women come from mostly Africa and the Middle East where this practice is marked as a rite of passage for a woman. It is a practice that is either supported by religion or culture and sometimes even both.
The Pressure Women Face
Our society is being weighed down by our unquestionable belief in our culture and in our religions, so much so that we have become incapable to speak out against social practices that dehumanise people in fear of challenging our religion and cultures. We should not only call out to women. Female genital mutilation is an issue even men should speak out against as well.
Men in most African societies are looked up to and respected. It is the men who are the Chiefs, Fathers and Priests who propel the continued practice of female genital mutilation in Africa. Therefore, we should reach out to these men and appeal to them. These men are fathers, uncles, brothers and husbands and they should be made aware of the heinous act they are committing by encouraging, condoning or silently watching girls get cut. Furthermore, it is these men who conduct and lead religious prayers. It is these men who propel the ideas and customs a particular society will follow and adhere to because Africa and the Middle East still operate in a patriarchal structure.
The Practice is on the Rise
I as a human being am appalled to know that “medicalized” cutting in Egypt has risen to 77 percent and that even though there is a law against it, this is not enough to dissuade people from forcing their children to undergo such an act. When it comes to the topic of eradicating female genital mutilation, I believe that more men should speak out because in the end this is not a woman’s fight it is our fight as people of the world. It is our fight as Africans who hope to see a better continent than our forefathers saw.
Zimbabwean women on the whole are privileged not to have to experience such a gruesome cultural norm. However, female genital mutilation is indicative of a culture that Zimbabwean and African women face. Some of the women who believe this practice should be passed on from generation to generation say that it is important for the woman to get circumcised to allow the man to enjoy himself when he is having sex without any hindrance from the woman.
The idea then is that the sexual pleasures of a woman are not as important as compared to that of a man. The cultural belief that a woman is there to please, serve and satisfy her husband is an idea that breeds genital mutilation as a symptom. Woman are sexual beings just as men are and within any relationship both parties should seek to please, serve and satisfy each other.
Men and women should be allowed to own their bodies and their sexuality. The matter is really about how we view men as opposed to women. It is important to regard both as being the sole custodians of their choices, lives and bodies. Many a time, we think that such issues concern only women and do not concern women. However, the truth is matters such as female genital mutilation concern men as much as women. It is not their fight. It is our fight.