Sunday, April 26, 2009


NOTE: Pic for illustration only...

46-year-old Mrs Abdow Ahmed retorts: “They are telling us to stop circumcising our girls; where on earth are we heading to? Do they want our girls to run mad?”

It is a classic case of the law finding itself caught between modernity and tradition. A Wajir woman has been arrested and is awaiting arraignment in court after her daughter died in a female circumcision gone wrong. Also in court is a traditional female circumciser who presided over the botched operation. The two cannot be named for legal reasons, but in Wajir, local clan elders and religious leaders are up in arms over the arrests. They say it was just an accident, and do not see why anyone should face charges of murder or manslaughter in a case they say should be handled traditionally by elders.
After more than a week in custody at the Wajir Police Station, the mother is yet to come to terms with the double tragedy — the death of her seven-year-old daughter and the prospect of spending time in jail. “This is just God’s case, and it has no appeal,” relative who identified himself as Abdi told the Nation. “No parent would like to cause death of her own child. “This is like an accident. Clan elders can settle the issue,” Abdi said, echoing other family members who want the women released. The case has now generated controversy in Wajir. Police insist the two caused the death of the girl and must face the law. But elders and religious leaders say the arrests are unfair and an affront to local cultural and Islamic sensibilities.

Female circumcision, formally known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is widely practised in the Somali community, with more than 97 per cent of girls going through the ritual. Local and international pressure groups have long campaigned for an end to the practice, which is also common in some other communities in Kenya including Central, Eastern, Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces. During the current school holidays, hundreds of girls have gone through the ritual in North Eastern Province, despite the spirited campaigns by the government and activist groups against the rite of passage.

In much of North Eastern, anti-circumcision campaigners have faced hostility and accusations of trying to kill age-old cultural practices. One of the most prominent local campaigners against the practice is nominated councillor Rukia Abdille. “It is a second degree felony that needs to be eradicated,” she said firmly. But 46-year-old Mrs Abdow Ahmed retorts: “They are telling us to stop circumcising our girls; where on earth are we heading to? Do they want our girls to run mad?”
Many women in Wajir, even the educated, embrace circumcision. “It is something every girl in our community should pass through. It is a way of preserving our womanhood,” Said Mrs Alasa Hussein, a 39-year-old mother. And anti-FGM campaigners acknowledge they are making little headway in the conservative community.
“We are facing an angry backlash from the community who believe that we are coming with a foreign ideology,” said Ms Ardo Mohamed, Wajir district anti-FGM and gender coordinator. “When we are talking about the thorny issue of FGM, women herders know we — women campaigners — have been circumcised too. Why do we have to preach now, they wonder?”

Even religious leaders strongly resist any move to eradicate girl circumcision. “We are doing what is called for by our religion,” says Wajir branch Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (Supkem) chairman Sheikh Abdullahi Ubied. “This is Islamic culture and it is part of our religion”. The Supkem official, however, advocates that infibulation, the most extreme form of female circumcision practised in the region, should be avoided. The rite is, however, not practised by all Muslims, and according to some scholars, seems to have cultural rather than Islamic roots.
The death of the young girl seems not to have moved locals to abandon the female cut. And neither has the arrest of her mother and the “surgeon” shaken their belief in the rite of passage. The difficult question is: will FGM be with us in the coming years?