Girls from Sebei are still hunted down and part of their private parts amputated in the crudest way, despite an existing law prohibiting female genital mutilation.
The Prohibition of Female Mutilation Act, 2010, was enacted clearly stipulating punishments for offenders, all aimed at protecting girls from such barbaric acts. But the culture has persisted. The ‘surgeons’ have become creative in that they export their victims to Kenya to perform such crude surgeries upon them.
By the way, Kenya has a similar law. So, why has the law not discouraged the ‘surgeons’ from carrying out their illegalities? It is a question of mindset.
In Dr Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success she describes a phenomenon known as growth mindset. This is a way of thinking that encourages learning from mistakes and the ability to improve intelligence and talent.
The scientist says people with growth mindsets enjoy the challenges and don’t feel limited when they are unsure of the answer. On the contrary, fixed mindsets are those who think they cannot change their natural abilities and that difficulties pose threats (not opportunities) and should be avoided.
The communities that practice female genital mutilation have fixed minds. First, there is no scientific benefit to the victims. It is utter deformation of the girls’ private parts.
The victims, who have no control over their body and whose bodily integrity is abused, have told horrid stories of how they go through excruciating pain during sex and childbirth. A lot have died during the surgery due to excessive bleeding. Others have not lived to see their children grow since they die during delivery.
Why then would generations persist on imposing pain upon generations? Dweck seems to have an answer. She discusses the importance of “not yet.” When something doesn’t go as planned, it’s more productive to adopt the outlook: “I haven’t achieved it yet,” instead of “I haven’t achieved it. Period.”
This puts emphasis on the chance to get it right next time, or maybe the time after that. Failure doesn’t just aid the learning process; it’s required, like the famous saying: “If you never fail, you’re not trying hard enough.” This is the thinking that needed to be inculcated together with the legal offences and penalties that were introduced to combat this atrocious act.
The ‘surgeons’ and the girls, as well as the community, need to be educated that failure to circumcise does not condemn one to an uncertain future. The uncircumcised girls fear to be ostracized.
They would rather endure the pain of the crude surgeon’s tool. The problem here seems to be lack of opportunities and having a fixed outlook. The girls are born and raised in the same community.
Many of them have had their education, if any, in the same community. They have never imagined getting spouses from elsewhere. Even if they imagine it, they are not sure whether others don’t demand the same conditions. And that is the folly of failing to cultivate a sense of nationhood.
Nationhood would presuppose that one does not need to be born and married in one’s community of origin. Any place one migrates to should be as good as home. How do you expect them to change when the only life they have known is that girls must submit to the interests of men? They believe marriage is not possible without undergoing the knife.
Success is contingent on generation, family and culture. This part of the country is endowed with boys and girls gifted with athletic talents. But this talent is never exploited.
So, it remains raw and dies in its cradle. That is why girls are never inspired by anything to resist this appalling act. They have no fallback position. If their talents were explored and tested and offered a better future, the ‘surgeon’ and the habit of pandering to men’s interest could go to hell.
So, what can we do? Should we allow our circumstances to mold us, or should we use our minds to shape our lives?
Taking advantage of the opportunities we are born into or that favor us in some way is crucial, and so is adopting a growth mindset that will push us through our darkest times. Those organizations involved in advocacy work against genital mutilation need to offer more than mere condemnation of the practice.
They need to avail opportunities that emerge from integration of communities and exploration of talent. Let investment in talents of those girls be the game changer. The young need to know that life can be lived differently and the world is abundant with opportunities.
The author is the business development director at The Observer Media Limited.