Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Monday, December 26, 2011
This is a topic that I have yet to discuss with my fellow community members until recently. It is a controversial issue worldwide and one that often leads to an emotional debate. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is where women have their clitoris and/or their inner and outer labia removed. It is currently illegal in Senegal but after a recent incident I have come to understand that it is something that happens quite frequently.
Last year, I wrote about male circumcision and the ritual that the boys partake in. It is one of the most interesting cultural practices that sill exists today, especially as Pulaar culture is slowly being replaced by globalization. At the time I was learning about this practice I also asked if girls had a similar ceremony. Their response was NO, absolutely not. It is illegal to cut girls. Being naive and new to the culture I felt content with the answer and did not dive deeper into it.
It was not until this past week that I learned this practice does in fact take place. The shock of discovering this brought up many different emotions. The consequences to this illegal cutting are one of the most depressing realizations I have faced throughout my service. The story goes as follows:
One morning all the uncut girls in a small village (ages 6 months to 5 years old) are gathered in a grandmother's rooms located in a small hut. Only a few mothers are allowed in and it's secrecy is only discovered after deathly screams are heard around the compound. These girls have no idea what is going on or why they are being deprived of their female organs. All they know is that is hurts! And it hurts a lot! There is no doctor present because if discovered they would go to jail. So it is no shock when a four year old girl has an infection and they do nothing except tell the poor child that "god is good and to pray for him to heal you". Nor is it a shock when the girls don't pee for 3 days because it hurts so badly. And when a girl finally dies because "it was god's will" there is no one held accountable.
I have heard it argued that FGM is a traditional practice and we "westerners" have no place to fight against it. And I have several responses to this:
1. Women here claim that they must cut their daughters because if they don't they will not be a good Muslim woman. (Please correct me if I am wrong but I believe many Muslim scholars argue against this practice and there is in fact no verse in the Koran that supports the cutting of women)
2. Today there is no traditional practice being carried out when the girls are cut. They are too young to understand, it's done in secrecy and they don't seek proper medical care.
There used to be more tradition involved because girls where cut when they came of age (12 or 13) and it was a ceremony with the grandmothers who would talk about the important qualities of being a Pulaar/ Muslim woman. However his no longer takes place, the cultural component has been lost.
3. I personally do not agree with any type of circumcision or altering of the body but at least for boys there is a major health benefit that results. For girls it is removing the part of their body that gives them pleasure during sex. It has nothing to do with making them healthier but further supports the notion that women are created only for the pleasure of men.
To me this is a human rights issue. No human being is better than another, no matter what sex you are. It infuriates me that girls are taught to have no self-confidence and from a young age are told they are worthless. What is more frustrating is the ignorance among mothers. They have no opinions of their own but have literally been feed lies their entire lives.
You may criticize me and say it's not my place to fight against this injustice. One also might argue that I am trying to force Western ideas on a country that have their own. And you know what, I probably might have said the same before this experience but I have come to understand that our" western ideas" work. Though it's important to say that I don't agree with all of them, there are many that should be shared. The fact that we women, in America, can get a free education, can easily attend college and pursue a career in whatever we want has, no doubt, significantly increased the success of our country. It has not always been like this and many strong women before us have had a hard fight, but it is an intricate part of development. Now that we have achieved it is our job to share and educate our sisters around the world. The fight against FGM is just a start. We are women who deserve to have all of our organs. We deserve to enjoy sex the way it was either created or has evolved to be practiced. We deserve to be confident, we deserve the chance to pursue an education and be successful. We deserve the opportunity to contribute to the world and make it a better place!
Fight against FGM!
http://www.tostan.org/ - organization the works in Senegal against FGM.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
A recent blog post, written by an x- peace-corps trainee, fired up some intense emotions among volunteers here in Senegal. Apparently her one-month experience as a trainee gave her enough insight to criticize Senegal volunteers and their administration. After reading her blog I was offended by the preposterous claims that she made. Although I understand her problems most likely stem from some deeper personal issues, I find it insulting that her approach was to publicize her account as an accurate representation of Peace-Corps Senegal.
The reason I am taking time to discuss this on my blog is because it raises an interesting question about being politically correct. I find this phase quite interesting and think it’s worth looking at. This term in America has become widely used and often times misused. Americans must be constantly on their toes, careful not to offend anyone. One could easily argue that this tyranny of hurt feelings toward the individual (which is growing rapidly) is destroying free speech and thought. Not that I strive to offend others, but the freedom to be offensive is a constitutional right. If you want to be a jerk then you are allowed to be a jerk. I think it is important to understand that just because a few people choose to live in a way the reflects negative on themselves, does not mean that they represent the attitudes and beliefs of the whole.
If you can picture a society the complete opposite of America you will find yourself imaging the interactions between people here in Senegal. The culture here, to any American, would appear offensive. This impoliteness does not stem from a desire to hurt others, but it is just how things are. It is by far, one of the most difficult components of adjusting to life in village. People do not filter what they say and if challenged to do so respond with curiosity and confusion.
Sayings such as “your fat”, “your ugly”, “you can’t cook” “you don’t know how to do this or that” “your white so you should give me money or buy a well” are things you here on a daily basis. Also both children and adults constantly chant the word “toubab” “toubako” “touba haacko”. “Toubab” is an Arabic word that actually means doctor, however very few Senegalese people know that. The word “Touba haacko” means leaf pants and can be linked back to when colonists arrived and used leaves to wipe themselves when using the restroom. Whatever the meaning, volunteers are called this wherever they go. It’s both offensive and annoying and it takes time to get used to it. It also takes some time to learn appropriate responses. From an American perspective one might think to stop and explain to the children that calling someone this name is offensive and not okay. However this is not how it is done in their culture thus being light hearted and joking with a response such “black children” is totally acceptable. It is not offensive to people to call out obvious things. (now if one where to call someone a slave, that would be inappropriate and I will discuss this in my next blog post in relation to the pulaar caste system)
There has been much debate amongst volunteers as to whether the word toubab is directed towards people because they are a foreign or because they are white. After asking some Senegalese people they will in fact admit that the word is directed towards people who have white skin. Fellow volunteers who are black do not usually get called this unless they are with a group of white volunteers. Now because the majority of Senegal Peace Corps volunteers have white skin, you can understand why parts of training are focused on addressing this issue. The trainee complains that after talking to administration about what she felt was discrimination against colored volunteers that they did absolutely nothing. This claim was probably the most insulting. Volunteers and those in administrative positions do their best to make sure the needs of all volunteers are being met. Recently a peer group has been established to address the needs of those volunteers who face other challenges such as being Asian, Black, and Hispanic etc. as well as targeting those who are homo and bisexual because it is true that they face struggles not known to someone like me. Just as female volunteers face different challenges than male volunteers. (also addressed in training)
Though, after spending months at a time in village, volunteers may say things that, to Americans, appear completely inappropriate, they in no way are racist. Volunteers do not think they are better than Senegalese people or black volunteers. Village life is hard and makes you a little jaded. I feel that a volunteer is justified in saying how they feel, even if it may appear insensitive to others. Though in her blog she does not directly call volunteers racist, she sure does say things to indicate it. I can only speak for myself, my friends, my region, and the volunteers that I interact with, but I feel like we are most likely some of the least likely people to be termed as racist. We are giving two years of our lives, to live without electricity, running water, personal space, our native language and our culture to help promote projects that are created to better the living conditions of those who are constantly fighting starvation, malnutrition, and deadly diseases.
Unfortunately this trainee will never get the opportunity to experience what this life is like and because she made accusations without understanding all of the facts she has portrayed the program of Peace Corps Senegal in a bad light. I think it is unfortunate that some very incredible people, such as our country director, have had to face some intense criticism over a trainee who could not hack it. From the perspective of someone who understands the value of being politically correct and then being thrown into a culture where being politically correctness means absolutely nothing, I will argue that there is a balance!
Every single person is different and nothing will every please everyone. As Tom Robbins says “humanity is offensive” and it is a part of life. It is not the governments job to make sure people do not hurt other peoples feelings. We as human beings have a choice, a choice to act and speak in a way that lifts up others. We also have the choice to embrace the positivity thrown at us and reject the negativity. We have the ability to understand that people oftentimes do and say things because of their own restrictions or problems. It takes practice but one must learn how to receive things without letting it affect them so personally.
There is a time to recognize the difference between a situation where we must stand up and fight injustice verses fighting against a person’s ignorance and insecurities.
I took the time to write this blog because I felt it was important to share how differently cultures vary and what it is like living in village. I also felt that it was necessary as a volunteer who respects the organization she works for to stand up and speak on behalf of my experience. Hope you enjoyed reading…. until next time!