Health concerns. Despite considerable evidence of the continuing social value of FGM, there is some indication that support for the practice is eroding and that prevalence of circumcision may be declining. It was a common theme in discussions that FGM is declining as part of the erosion of wholesome family values in genera and the decline in FGM was perceived to be contributing to social malaise. Both female and male respondents nonetheless suggested positive reasons for this trend, which ranged from health concerns to the notion that circumcised women are often sought by men to the general sense that circumcision is “outdated”. Some of this change in social perception is based on misinformation, and some is based on actual factors regarding health problems associated with FGM. More typically, however, health concerns reflected a blend of information and misinformation. An example includes the perception that a decline in the nutritional content of food is believed to make it harder for women to recover the blood that they lose during circumcision.
…now that the food we eat is not very nutritious as before, we can not risk wasting blood through circumcision.
-Natugnia women, aged 35–49, polygamous union
Men who opposed the practice were sometimes cognizant of the health implications of practicing FGM such as the effect of FGM on childbearing, but expanded this notion to include child health more generally. For example:
I prefer the uncircumcised [women] because whenever she brings forth, you will notice that the child is beautiful and healthier than the circumcised woman’s child.
– Gomongo adolescent male, aged 20–25
These views demonstrate the need to provide effective health education about the effects of FGM in ways that combat misinformation about FGM as well as provide a better understanding of why FGM should be prevented.
Ideational Change Focus group respondents often noted ways in which FGM norms are changing. Although this is not the predominant view some women and many men stated that FGM is outmoded and that women who practice it are illiterate and ignorant. This view was expressed by a middle aged Natugnia woman:
Whether married or not, circumcision is not practiced any longer. Only the illiterates stay indoors and still circumcise. If you assemble all girls here, the majority are not circumcised.
– Natugnia woman, aged 35–49, polygamous union
Women expressing this view also acknowledge that the pattern of mockery that was once directed to the uncircumcised is now more typically expressed as mockery against those who are circumcised. For example, a respondent claimed that women who are circumcised are now lectured about the practice when they encounter health workers.
These days when you are circumcised and you are in labor at the hospital, the nurses insult you so much.
– Gongnia woman, middle aged
Some women cited that they have experienced being ridiculed for having an “empty vagina:”
These days if a circumcised woman tries to look down on an uncircumcised one, she will be seen as ignorant or even an illiterate, because the practice is outdated now. So when you are insulted that you have a protruding clitoris, also return the insult by saying that she has an ‘empty vagina’.
-- Natugnia woman, aged 35–49, polygamous union
Still, while many circumcised women wanted their daughters and other women to undergo circumcision, some professed a sense of opposition against the practice. Reasons cited were usually health related, though some circumcised women expressed regret that sexual relations were enjoyed more by uncircumcised women.
We those who are circumcised don’t enjoy sex as much as the uncircumcised women. We never knew it was harmful to us or we wouldn’t have done it.
-- Gyanania women, aged 35–49, polygamous union
“I have been circumcised, but when I have a daughter, I will not allow her to get circumcised, we were circumcised because we were ignorant.” -- Mirigu old women, aged 50+
Thus, mockery among women is the main mechanism through which social pressure is exercised. Whereas ridicule was once directed to fostering FGM, it is now sometimes directed to deriding the practice. While fears of women’s sexuality once provided a rationale for FGM practice, there is evidence that sexual perceptions of uncircumcised women may be contributing to changing social acceptance of uncircumcised women.
But foremost, FGM no longer seems to be an issue that is encouraged by men and their preferences or dictated by their preferences. Moreover, many women are cognizant of the fact that men have become ambivalent about circumcision. Results of this investigation thus, challenge the view that women seek FGM in response to the dictates of men. Instead, women subscribe to the notion that circumcision is the concern of women only. Men have a role in the FGM decision making system; but all FGD age and gender groups lend emphatic support to the proposition that FGM is a woman’s matter that is sustained and promoted by mothers and mothers-in-law as one woman noted:
“The men would never open their mouths that a woman should [be] circumcised.
It is a woman’s thing. The pressure comes from them.”
– Natugnia women, aged 35–49, polygamous union