On this blog, I will sometimes veer off topic. But, what I’ve discovered is how issues all connect. One of the reasons elephants are suffering is due to extreme poverty of the human population. One of the reasons poverty exists is due to poor education. Poor education is often due to a lack of women’s rights. A lack of women’s rights often coincides with poor healthcare. And, the circle goes around and around.
In a recent post, I discussed the Maasai. They are one of the many cultures in Africa that practice female genital mutilation. Although there have been campaigns in recent years against this practice (and countries such as Kenya have officially banned it), it still exists and is still supported by many.
FGM is a traditional practice that represents the change from childhood to adulthood. It is considered in certain communities to be an act of celebration, love, and pride. Therefore, it is hard for those who think of it as part of their cultural tradition to recognize that FGM is abusive. Westerners who come to Africa to criticize the practice are routinely dismissed since Western culture has its own problems.
FGM has no medical benefits. It only causes harm to a woman’s health. She is more likely to suffer from painful menstruation, urinary tract infections, childbirth complications, psychological distress, and sexual pain and trauma. The procedure itself is risky, with high rates of infection, heavy bleeding, and permanent scarring.
As more adolescent and teenage girls are being educated, there has been more resistence to FGM. Yet, this has pushed the practice onto younger girls, thus defeating the cultural idea that it is a celebration of womanhood.
What can be done? Continue to support women’s education – it will take a while to change a culture with deep roots, but the massive changes that have occurred in the past decade are in large part due to women’s education. Organizations like Camfed are a great way to support women’s education in Africa. Also support medical programs such as Medecins Sans Frontiers, which does amazing work not only by treating ill patients but also by educating communities on health issues.
I also recommend checking out the Desert Flower Foundation which directly addresses FGM.
FGM is often seen as a moral obligation by families to keep their daughters pure and loyal to their eventual spouse. But, there is nothing moral about the practice. The idea that women are seen as the “problem” – the temptress, the vixen, the one that lures men to misbehave – is a problem worldwide. So, by supporting and standing up for women in your own family, your own community, and worldwide, you can be part of the solution to achieve a better society for all.