Kenya: 350 girls set to face the knife in December ceremony

‘Stars, prevailing weather patterns, and other key elements had signaled that the initiations should go on in the next two weeks’.

The Daily Nation

From The Ottawa Citizen

Female predicament

The Ottawa CitizenDecember 3, 2009

The status of women in Afghanistan gets a lot of attention these days. You can go into coffeeshops in Ottawa and hear people arguing about how many girls’ schools have been built, or how common it is for women in Kabul to go without burqas.

But Afghanistan may no longer be the front line in the war against women — or, at least, it’s not the only front line. In the last few weeks, harrowing stories from many countries demonstrate that extreme misogyny is taking root around the world. The Taliban are not the only offenders.

Indeed, while Islamic clerics and jihadis are leading the charge, many girls are just as much at risk from their own parents — even their own mothers.

That’s certainly the case in Kenya, where — according the Daily Nation newspaper — 350 teenage and pre-teen girls are scheduled to undergo mass genital mutilation in early December. Although this brutal procedure — often euphemized as “female circumcision” — is now illegal in Kenya, it is still common, and there is still a cultural belief that “decent” girls must get “the cut.”

In Canada, Liberal MP Keith Martin is trying to bring attention to this story and put pressure on the Kenyan government in time to save at least some of the girls from a culturally legitimized form of assault, both physical and psychological, that is directly linked to harmful ideas about gender and sexuality.

In Sudan, women have been flogged and imprisoned for wearing pants. One woman who was arrested for the crime back in July, a courageous journalist named Lubna Ahmed Hassan, has fled the country and written a book called Forty Lashes for a Pair of Trousers.

In Somalia, the pattern that brought the Taliban to power in Afghanistan is repeating itself, while the world watches. The collection of fundamentalist thugs called al-Shabaab (“the youth,” just as the Taliban are “the students”) now controls much of Somalia, and imposes a strict form of sharia law. Women, of course, get the worst of it. In November, a divorced woman was accused of a relationship with an unmarried man — enough to meet al-Shabaab’s definition of adultery. She was buried up to her waist and stoned to death in front of a crowd. The man accused of being her boyfriend was given 100 lashes. The world has learned about a few such cases in Somalia over the past year.

Even in secular democracies where the rule of law applies, girls and women are not safe from perverse notions about sexuality and family honour. Domestic violence in the name of imported religious or cultural values is happening now in Canada and other western countries. Honour killings are still rare in Canada, but the fact that they happen here at all is reason for concern, and reason to find ways to protect girls growing up in violent homes.

It’s easier to help women in Canada, or even in Kenya, than it is to help women in anarchic states such as Somalia. But no matter where a misogynist crime happens, it’s incumbent on Canadians to at least notice, and to condemn.

It’s common for critics of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan to accuse this country of hypocrisy, because we did so little about the abuse of women there before 2001. If Afghanistan has taught us anything, it’s that the status of women in any country is an indicator of its ideological trajectory and its potential to affect international security.

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