Today I was invited to lunch, a ‘ladies lunch’; normally this would not be ‘my thing’, but I knew the topic was a little different from what I consider the usual: bitching and moaning about husbands/men; it was FGM.
Mandy, chef proprietor of an art cafe that Chris and I haunt regularly for its cool vibe, air con and ginger cooler, had invited me to join her and Bomzy, who works at the US Embassy. It was a lunch of good food, great company and mind-blowing conversation.
FGM in The Gambia was a ‘right of passage: both adolescent males and females were circumcised in a ritual as part of their transition into adulthood. Some speculate that this was a remnant of an Ancient Egyptian or Nubian practice where the clitoris was considered male and needed to be excised from the female body. In later times, religion has been cited as the raison d’etre; in Sierra Leone it is a Christian tribe who promulgate it; in The Gambia some use Islam to justify the practice whilst other Imams say there is no such instruction in the Qu’ran or Hadiz and that the prophet’s daughter was never cut.
According to doctors, 80% of women in The Gambia have undergone FGM, a practice on women BY women. Increasingly men are speaking out against the practice – it is not something they want for their wives or daughters. Indeed an Imam at a recent conference on the subject spoke with tears streaming down his face about how his precious daughter was cut against his wishes when he was travelling out of the country. Nowadays, young couples who do not wish to have their daughters mutilated have to keep a watchful eye on their babies and toddlers against an auntie or grandmother secreting the child away: for no other reason than custom.
Women seldom talk about FGM; of their pain, sickness, side effects and least of all – their frustrated sexual passions. Infidelity in marriage by women is common; promiscuity rife, with high levels of STIs; there is speculation that this could be women desperately seeking the satisfaction they crave through trying yet another partner; unwilling to accept that this is denied them surgically.
In a society with tremendous social capital, where family and neighbours support each other, malodorous older women are tragically outcast.