|The past week has not brought good news for women.
Although many women are now being educated, and they are entering
professions in relatively small numbers, many more are still denied basic
Female genital mutilation is practised widely amongst some thirty eight of the forty two tribes, particularly in rural areas. It is a complex problem, since people firmly believe a woman is ‘unclean’ without ‘the cut’. If she is spared, she cannot be married and she is shunned by her community. Some organizations have tried to substitute other ceremonies and rituals to mark the passage into womanhood, but without great success. Many men equate it with male circumcision and have no understanding of the pain and danger of the procedure, nor of the long lasting problems for basic functions and childbirth caused by the removal of the clitoris and labia and the crude stitching to leave one very small opening.
The procedure is illegal, but is often done in secret. Girls are often married almost immediately after the ritual, thus dropping out of school.
The newspaper last week covered the sad story of two Masai girls, aged fourteen and sixteen who had been sheltered by their mother and had not undergone ‘the cut.’ Their eighteen-year-old brother wanted to marry them off to collect the bride price, abducted them and forcibly had them cut. They finished up in hospital with the doctors saying they had rarely seen such brutal mutilation and that the girls would require reconstructive surgery. The police are still looking for the brother.
Somali super model, Waris Dirie, was also in town for the International Conference on FGM in Nairobi. She was ‘circumcised’ as a child and has spent her life since campaigning against and denouncing the ‘barbaric’ practice. Three of her female cousins died as a result of the procedure.
Today’s paper has a report of a chief in the West Pokot who was seriously injured when he tried to stop a secret ‘cut’ of twelve primary school girls. He is in hospital, but the girls escaped. For now.
We hope to be able to make a trip to Kampala (Uganda) to check on the Peace High School, associated with the local Rotary Club, which shelters girls fleeing from the ‘cut’ in their villages and also returned girl soldiers from the Lord’s Resistance Army in the north. None of them can ever return home.
For the last week we have been following the drama of a young seventeen-year-old. She entered a ‘come we stay’ relationship with a twenty-four-year-old labourer. He bought her a cell phone and she sent many messages to Safaricom to be eligible to win prizes. After a month she was declared the winner of a 6.5 million shilling (something over $100,000)prize, a fortune for anyone here. The couple appeared on TV with wide smiles, promising to buy land for their peasant parents, for her to return to school etc etc.
Later in the week, we heard that she had been whisked away by her family, she is four months pregnant and there never was a marriage. African customary law varies between tribes, but usually needs a ceremonial acceptance of the union by the bride’s family. Conflicting stories abound. Some representatives of the husband say they had negotiated a price with the girl’s mother. She denies it. But why did she not object when the relationship started if she is so much against it now? Marriage for girls under 18 is illegal because they should be in school. The tearful ‘husband’ has been featured in the media. The girl is still in hiding. I doubt she will ever have free use of her money.
The weather has been generally cool and wet as we are in the period of the ‘short rains.’ Storms start in mid afternoon and can be violent, but rather less so than during the ‘long rains.’ Often the rain continues through the night, so the mornings are warm and humid as the sun begins to burn off the dampness. Then it cools until in the evening you sometimes need a sweater. As I write this it is 26C (80F) in the kitchen, but I am wearing long sleeves!
We are working steadily with workshops, computer school, Rotary wells and the goat project. We are also working with local Rotarians on the installations for Rotary High School, also funded by Canadian Rotary Clubs. We do plan to take some ‘down’ time. We’ve planned an ethno-botanical walk in the West Pokot (semi arid) area as well as a trip to Addis Ababa.