Near the end of our time in Maasai Mara on the border of Kenya and Tanzania, our ministry contact requested that we host a Q&A with the youth of the church.
The Oloolaimutia church is a lively, growing body of believers, which is largely made up of many dedicated youth. Pastor Samuel wanted us to connect with them, so they could ask questions about the Bible, education, and whatever else they wanted.
We sat down in a circle of white plastic chairs, as the teenagers trickled in. The breeze blew through the open windows and doors of the church, and the girls shyly adjusted their colorful lesos around their shoulders.
“Well, I guess we’ll get started,” I said. “Is there anyone that can translate for us?”
One of the boys volunteered, and we started by going around and saying our names. After introductions, we quickly learned that the girls were too shy to come out and ask questions, so we passed around a few pieces of paper and pens.
Several good questions were asked, about how to keep your integrity as a Christian while playing competitive sports, how to study the Bible, and what to do if your boyfriend doesn’t go to church. We were expecting questions about our favorite soccer teams or favorite foods, so we were surprised by the depth of the questions the youth were asking.
A paper was passed to my teammate next to me, she read the question, then leaned toward me. She whispered, “I don’t know what this means…” I took the paper from her, read it, and took a deep breath while I tried to gather my thoughts.
What should I do if my parents want me to do a traditional practice such as FGM, but I don’t want to do it?
Female Genital Mutilation.
Just two months before, I sat in a house of prayer in Penang, Malaysia, at a prayer station. I was on my knees, crying out to God for the voiceless women all over the world who are subjected to this evil.
According to the World Health Organization, FGM is defined as:
“…all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons…FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.”
It is estimated that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to and live with the effects of FGM, and most victims are found in African and Middle Eastern cultures.
The practice originates from centuries-old beliefs that FGM will preserve a female’s chastity, and it that will make her more marriageable. In reality, it has no health benefits. The risks include blood loss, infertility, increased chances of childbirth complications and newborn deaths, along with a host of others, including fatalities.
Aside from the medical complications, FGM is a complete violation of human rights. Often, the ritual is performed on infants, and is also performed up to adolescence. The girls usually do not have any say in the matter, but rather are forced to submit to the pressures of family members and communities.
(Cheyanne with some of the girls. Photo credit: Rachel Lamb)
As I sat with the piece of paper in my hand, I tried to figure out how to answer this question.
“This is a really tough situation. I know that it is hard when your family wants you to do something that you know is wrong. Especially when it comes to traditions. But your body is your body, and no one has the right to tell you what to do with it. You should find someone you trust, like a friend or an aunt, and confide in them that you don’t want to do it. They can help you to take a stand for what you believe is right.”
The Q&A session moved on, and the youth asked a few more questions. As we packed up the plastic chairs, I thought more about the FGM question. I knew that it happened in the world, but I never expected to come face to face with a potential victim of it. Actually, I probably already had met victims, but I just didn’t know that I had.
There is so much darkness around the world, and it’s easy to see the evil and get lost in the frustration and helplessness of the situation. As a high feeler, identifying with the victim is my natural setting, so I often get stuck there. However, I am learning how to take the next step.
Although we get a lot of rap for many things, one thing that I think our generation does well is advocacy. We love our causes, and we fight hard for them. One of the easiest and most effective ways to advocate for a cause is by spreading the word. Research it. Write about it. Talk to your friends or your Bible study group.
The more it is talked about, the more it is identified as a human rights violation that needs to be put to an end. Knowledge is power, you know.
For more information on Female Genital Mutilation, check out the reports at UNICEF and World Health Organization.