In the short time I've been here I've managed to meet and speak with a few of these women. "Mary" is in her early fifties and hails from Samburu district. She is a staunch anti-FGM activist and sat down to talk to me about how and why she became an activist. I was fascinated by her story, which I will feature in the special January 2016 edition of SiA Magazine. One of her main points: Female circumcision in her society is inextricably linked with immediate marriage and reproduction. Girls as young as 10 and 11 are circumcised and are expected to marry and begin bearing children immediately afterwards. Interestingly, Mary talked about how girls are encouraged to have boyfriends among their young clansmen and have sex prior to their circumcision and marriage and that it is female elders who perform abortions if the these girls accidentally become pregnant. My first thought was, wow! Although, I am already familiar with much of the ethnography on female initiation and circumcision among Nilotic groups in East Africa, I suddenly thought of how Mary's accounts of girls' sexuality so completely contradicts western stereotypes and the global media meta-narrative of FGM - that African girls and women are sexually repressed and controlled by men.
What I learned in these few days from these women's stories and others I've spoken to here in Nairobi is that as African women we can have sobering conversations about female circumcision and even use whatever language we choose to describe the practice and still respect one another as sisters making choices that suit our lived realities.
But can African girls and women really make a choice about female circumcision? Unfortunately, I didn't really get to answer that question during the BBC Global Questions show. That will be topic of next Tuesday's blog and a key theme of an upcoming lecture in Washington DC this December. Don't forget, the BBC Global Questions programme airs this weekend Saturday November 14th and Sunday November 15th.
World News TV: Weekend of 14th November
World Service Radio: Weekend of 14th November
GMT TX times on World TV:
Sat 14th November 01:10, 15:10
Sun 15th November 09:10, 20:10
World Service Radio
Sat 14th first TX: 20.00 GMT
Sun 15th last TX 12.00 GMT
Co-Founder, African Women are Free to Choose