Nurame was in her bed when she was woken by an angry mêlée. In her family’s hut there were grown men – an incredible number, 10 or more, all in their 30s, all standing over her father, shouting. They reached for her. At night here, where there is no electricity, perfect darkness falls, and everything becomes a shadow-play of barely visible flickers. But even though she was eight years old, she suspected at once what was happening. She had heard whispers that, when a girl is considered ready for marriage, a man will seize her, and rape her, and then she must serve him for the rest of her life.
This practice has apparently (it is news to me) become endemic in Ethiopia. I spoke at length in a previous post about my feelings on female genital mutilation, and the systematic brutalization of women that happens all around the world. This article puts these atrocities into perspective, and profiles the exploits of a particularly impressive woman who has become the face of the rebellion against this practice:
When [Boge] was told this was her culture and she had to accept it, she found the argument ridiculous. “I thought – how can this be my culture, if it kills me?” she says, leaning forward. “What is culture? It is something that is constantly changing. In Europe, you burned witches. That culture changed. Every woman has a sense of her own dignity. I knew I was not a cow, a chattel, and I did not want to be treated like one. No woman wants to be abducted or cut up. This is true whatever your culture. Culture is not stagnant – it is transient.”
It makes me incredibly happy to see people reject the arch-liberal excuse of “that’s just how they do things in their culture.” It’s a pernicious lie that permits the continuation of horrible and terrifying practices all over the world.
Interestingly, the article also spends a good deal of time talking to the men, and getting their perspective:
When Boge first arrived in this area, he was sceptical. Why are these women trying to change the way things have worked here for as long as anyone can remember? What good can come of it? “I went to see the video of the circumcision taking place, and I was shocked. I didn’t know it was so violent, so bloody. That was the first time I began to think,” he says, lighting a cigarette. His wife – who was only 16 when she was seized – began to attend the KMG meetings and talk about the feelings she had long interred.
These are not bad people, these are regular people seized by a bad idea. Like pseudoscience, or religion, or any other number of bad ideas, they can be challenged and people can be convinced to abandon them. Will everyone abandon the bad ideas? Certainly not. But if enough people do, it can affect a sea change that reaches out and affects the entire society. That’s the way we have to do things in any culture I want to be a part of.
Do yourself a favour, read the whole thing.