Article: Please, Please Hold Your Tears

You sounded hysterical on the phone, wanting to know whether your mother and I betrayed your trust in us. Attempts to douse your anxieties were met with: “Did you violate my rights as a child?” you just wanted to know if we did it on you!

Never have you been so impatient, so agitated. We understand your worry. You must have been reading, watching and listening to the horrific memories of those who have had their womanhood mutilated; too innocent to protest the life long wound. And too gullible to have obeyed the primitive logic, the dictates of cultural practices that brutalize the dignity of women, under the guise of a tradition.

Breathlessly, you quoted copiously from the book: “This is my life: Joy and Pain” by Waris Dirie. You couldn’t imagine a loving father- the mother behind him- subjecting their daughter to such an “enduring wickedness”. I have since read the book, I share Waris’ pains. I share her life long emotional wounds, especially where she said, “The next thing I felt was my flesh being cut away. I heard the blade sawing back and forth through my skin. The feeling was indescribable. I didn’t move, telling myself the more I did, the longer the torture would take.”

Women, in their millions, must have one way or the other gone through similar genital cutting, aptly described as genital mutilation. Few lucky ones, like Waris, voice out the emotional trauma, the grief and horror their parent made them go through under the guise of circumcision. And yet, many, many others bottle up the pain- only to inflict it on their own daughters. But who is to be blamed? The father who encourages it in ignorance, hoping to control his daughter’s rampant sexual desire? Or the mother who knows where it pains; feels it, and supports it. My dear, please hold your tears. Thank God, your own parents never did it to you. It was done on your mother. And carryover of the agony used to wear her down emotionally and physically during her menstrual periods. She likens the harrowing experience to one Mrs. Esohe Jacob, a victim of genital cutting (now honourable member of Edo State House of Assembly) who says,    I was circumcised at the age of nine. Even the goat in our compound cried and pursued the traditional doctor out of our compound the day I was circumcised.”

The prolonged, excruciating labour your mother went through, giving birth to you, (we almost lost you) was traceable to the circumcision her parents performed on her. In her case, the clitoris, the labia minora and a chunk of the labia majora were also removed. The wound inflicted, as e result of the cutting, was stitched short, leaving a narrow passage. To save her life and yours, the doctor had to open up the stitched scar to allow your birth. Your mother was made to go through all this to preserve a tradition that believes that the baby’s survival lies in its head not touching the clitoris in the process of being born; to curtail her sexual sensitivity; to make her a complete woman by cutting off such a vulnerable part of her! What a blissful ignorance. Such beliefs make this heinous and fetish practice difficult to eradicate. This is where lies our worry as parents. How does our society purge parents, majority of whom are in rural areas, of the ignorance that encourages them to mutilate the genitals of their female children without qualms?

No parent will permit the application of crude, unsterilized instrument of circumcision on their daughters were they aware of the consequences of their action- excessive bleeding, tetanus and in some cases, death of victims. Or do you think that parents will allow the infliction of the un-healing wounds on their daughters, knowing that it (female circumcision) may result in pregnancy related complications? Hope isn’t lost. Concerned parents like us are now speaking out against this mindless practice

If you must know, we use you as a model to persuade die-hard parents who insist on circumcising their daughters.

As I write this letter to you, Edo state has enacted a law making female circumcision an offence. Ogun state is also in the process of making it a punishable offence. You would agree these are right moves in the right directions. But they aren’t enough. Reaching out to the various communities remains the next best option. Except the people are given enough information on the dangers of female circumcision, fear of the legal reprisal will make them go underground to perpetuate the “mutilation” of the female genitals.

We can borrow a leaf from Senegal, where discussions by various concerned groups within the communities, are making the people change their way. A case in point is a circumciser, who “was persuaded to abandon the practice after months of discussion”. She says: “when I learned that this might cause sterility and infections, I didn’t want to be the cause of all that.”

Your mother’s well informed position emboldened her to disagree with the notion that uncircumcised girls lose their sexual control: “what about the large number of girls into prostitution, yet circumcised?” she always tell other mothers.

I can’t agree more. Sexual control is in the mind of girls brought up in planned homes.

My hope is that women in authority, in privilege positions like Waris Dirie, will set in motion a process of discouraging the less privileged from the mindless practice of circumcision. They can do this by sharing the “unhealing” pains and pangs of genital cutting, they suffered, growing up.

Culled from: Choices For Quality Life. August 2001. A quarterly magazine of the Population Information and Communication Bureau, Federal Ministry of Information and National Orientation, Ikoyi, Lagos.

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