Djiboutians practice FGM, female genital mutilation. I won’t give you all the gory details in this post, but click here for more information.
There is an ongoing fight against the traditional practice and a recent law states anyone who performs FGM or pays a woman to perform it on their daughters will receive a jail sentence and a huge fine. No one has been punished yet and the practice continues.
I had a conversation with our landlord’s sister last week. She is in her sixties and has spent her entire life in the bush as a nomad. The conversation is a classic example of why it is so difficult to eliminate FGM among the older, more traditional women but also shows how the younger generation is embracing new ideas.
In outlying regions, FGM continues as before but in the city, percentages of girls undergoing the procedure is dropping. Not radically, but dropping. Statistics vary but estimates show that 95% of girls used to be circumcised and now the numbers are around 85%, depending on the exact definition of circumcision referred to.
The conversation is between the older woman (K) and her thirty-year old niece (A).
K: We used to sew up the girls tight, how can we just let the clitoris go now?
A: Me, I won’t cut my girls.
K: Our religion says to do it. Now we aren’t supposed to sew them but we still have to cut them.
A: Our religion doesn’t say to do it.
K: That doesn’t exist, we have to. Are you bringing in a new religion? Are you starting a new religion? When did this new religion arrive?
A: It isn’t haram* to give birth with a clitoris. It isn’t haram to have one. Arabs don’t circumcise.
K: How do Arabs circumcise?
A: They don’t.
K: Well, we don’t sew anymore. But how can a girl keep her clitoris? Shame on you! (laughing) That’s haram. We have to make our girls halal. Listen, saying, ‘don’t touch the girls’ is shameful. How on earth can they get married with a big thing hanging between their legs? Shame! Think of how long it will grow!
A: But it isn’t in our religion.
K: Leave me alone, you girl. You want us to become haram. We can’t just leave it. We have to cut it. (laughing) A girl with a long clitoris! How shameful.
A: If your daughter has a daughter and doesn’t have her circumcised, what will you do?
K: I will make sure she is circumcised as long as I live. Until I die I will make sure she is cut with a razor. No problem, she’ll heal. When she gets married, she’ll get sliced open again. Then, you know, if her husband doesn’t enter her, he is shamed. Weak. Her family will refuse the marriage.
A: If you do FGM now in Djibouti, you’ll be thrown in jail.
K: May they throw me in jail! It can not exist in our religion to have a girl with a clitoris. Did we get two holy books? Two times it came down from heaven? May they throw me in jail!
A grew disgusted with the conversation and abandoned K and I to continue talking. There is no way K will change her opinions but I was encouraged by A’s adamant responses and her courage to stand up to a deeply entrenched tradition.
*Haram means unclean according to Islamic standards. Halal means clean.
*Here are a couple of links specific to Djibouti, some of the information is a little outdated. FGM in Djibouti
US Department of State report on FGM in Djibouti