About 200 million women and girls worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation. In Djibouti and Somalia, 98 per cent of girls are mutilated. Despite having a law against the vice in Uganda, numbers continue to rise with some communities migrating to nearby Kenya, most under duress to accomplish this deadly crime in the name of culture and tradition.
Isn’t it a shame that individuals and societies hide under ‘good’ intentions and culture to ruin women’s sexual and reproductive health through practices such as widow cleansing and widow inheritance? The mere thought of that promising young lady who is being subjected to a random infection or even an unwanted pregnancy because she has to be cleansed by the village witch doctor who by the way is carrying out this ritual for the 123rd time is disgusting! At the root of all this is a patriarchal society that conveniently overlooks the negative consequences of these practices.
Flipping the paper to the Buganda kingdom in Uganda, did you know that previously, a royal princess was appointed with the Kabaka when he ascended the throne? The Lubuga (Nalinya) had her own palace and held significant power. The only other female matching her power was the Queen mother who too had her own palace. It is through the Queen Mother that the Kabaka cemented allegiance to his mother’s clan. This liaison with his mother signified the great respect that the Kabaka had for his mother but also served a political role in automatically co-opting his mother’s clansmen as allies and protectors of the throne. They therefore formed the nucleus of an intelligence system that provided the Kabaka with advance warning of threats to the throne. These two women were protectors of the throne including eliminating rival princes. The Lubuga was the Kabaka's confidant and advisor. This is definitely a norm we would all love to be preserved. Here is a culture whose forefathers had great wisdom and great respect for women and involved them in family and clan as well as the kingdom’s affairs.
Today, you will find that many are subjected to a beautiful traditional marriage ceremony at the expense of their sexual health. Is there room for discussion on the positive and negative cultures that affect women enjoying their rights? Could this be the era where we amplify constructive culture and do away with the negative ones which were instilled probably out of ignorance? Winnie Byanyima, coming out to say that kneeling is a humiliating ritual and implying that it should be done away with is something that should ignite our discussion on how culture should not be static but have room for evolution. It is high time positive cultural practices thrived, and the negative ones got trashed.
When we talk about freedom, people should have cultural freedom to question whether or not a certain practice is harmful to their political, social or economic self. Imagine being denied economic development as a woman because culturally a woman is not to inherit property or being denied marriage and a happy ever after because first daughters are not allowed to marry as in some parts of Africa. Among the various definitions and characteristics of culture, what stands out is culture is learned and can therefore be unlearned. This means that there is room for the harmful norms to be dealt away with whether by individual rebellion or policy reform, with or without sanctions.