The conversation around reproductive and sexual rights and the bodily autonomy of women generally consists of access to abortion, birth control, and intimate partner and sexual violence. FGM is a patriarchal cultural practice rooted in the cutting away of the female body with the suppression of emotion, which at its core, is a denial of personhood. For more than 200 million girls and women, the violation of their body occurred when they could not advocate for themselves. For these girls/women, it is as if all the entities in her world are conspiring against her current and future life. Although Grace details the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kenya in this blog, the violation has increased in the US since 1990. The global conversation on FGM has been spurred by young women and girls willing to risk social exclusion in the pursuit of eradicating gender-based violence. – AR (**Trigger warning)
by Grace Ndanu
The development of women has been low for a very long time in my country of Kenya because of some retrogressive cultures that include FGM, early marriages, and wife inheritance. For this blog, I will major on FGM within the community I am most familiar with: the Masai.
The practice of FGM is rooted in gender inequality. Women will never have a say on the issues surrounding their daughters; this means that the men are the ones to control women’s sexuality, and ideas about purity, modesty, and purity. Although women do not have a say on their daughter issues, they are the ones to perform the act; this is seen as an honour. The act of cutting one’s daughter is both an honour and a fear. The fear lies in the inevitable social exclusion if the cutting does not occur. The procedure is done in three ways: partial or total removal of the clitoris, the complete or partial removal of the inner labia with or without removal of the clitoral organ and outer labia, or the removal of the external genitalia and fusion of the wound. The inner and/or outer labia are cut away with or without removal of the clitoral organ.
The cutters use non-sterile devices which may lead to contracting diseases such as HIV. The devices include knives, razors, scissors, glass, fingernails, or sharpened rocks. There are adverse health effects depending on the type of procedure. The effects include infections, difficulty in urinating and passing menstrual flow, chronic pain, development of cysts, complications during childbirth and fatal bleeding.
There have been efforts in fighting FGM because there are no known health benefits instead the effects known are negative. A number of NGOs, including the Cara Girls Rescue Center under the Cara Project, are helping to mitigate the practice. The Cara Center takes in girls who are at risk of going through the painful process and also the ones who are already circumcised. They ensure the girls’ safety and security. If the girl has not yet gone through the process, she is welcomed in the center and immediately start the counseling process. Additionally, she will begin schooling – some of them may not have gone to school at all. For those already violated, they are immediately taken to the Gender Violence Recovery Center under the Nairobi Women’s Hospital for medication where they are admitted and receive counseling. At the same time, both the parents and the cutters are arrested. They must present to court when they are summoned and given a warning that if it has ever happened again, they will be jailed.
The rescued girls and warned parents receive an education about the human and reproductive rights of girls and women. It is with this new knowledge that they understand their personal/familial and communal rights better. Learning has created awareness and advocacy throughout the Masai community [and in other African countries and throughout the world]. There has been the development of a zero-tolerance attitude on FGM matters that extends to many of them becoming rescuers of girls before they are circumcised.
Over spring break 2019, UAB students traveled to Kenya with Dr. Stacy Moak, Professor of Social Work, and Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter, Director of the UAB Institute for Human Rights. They visited CARA Girls Rescue Center where they met Grace, a student and former resident at CARA [she is behind the lady in the orange dress]. Below is Grace’s narrative which includes sexual violence.
As humans, we are born to expect much than to face reality. We come to learn that everything has a purpose.
I was born in 1998 and raised by a single mother till 28th November 2004, where I got a daddy who I thought was loving and caring. Instead, he became a monster. Before my sister who was born in 22nd November 2005, the man started beating me for no reason and not just a child beat, it was a criminal beat whereby he used an electric wire to beat me up. As a child, I expected my mom to get in between and talk to her husband about the matter. My expectations became a fantasy and the beating became a habit. In 2006 in grade 4, I was supposed to go for tuition on weekends, but instead, I was forced to stay with my little sister at home so that my mom can go for work or church meeting. When I refused I was given a thorough beat and asked why I didn’t love my baby sister.
Sometimes the man volunteered to stay with the baby but insisted I remain so that I will help him with the baby. His agenda was opposite and he started molesting me. He started touching my private parts and when he knew it was time for mom to come back, he beat me up so that I should not say. As this was going on, we had a male neighbor who was doing the same as what my dad was doing but didn’t beat me. Until one Sunday, I refused to go to church and now I was left with the neighbor in the compound where he got a chance to rape me and asked me to keep quiet. Later in the evening, I decided to open up to my mom and she said that I was lying. She talked with my dad about the issue and they decided to ask the neighbor. Definitely, he denied. From this point, my parents started calling me a liar. This made my dad more comfortable in continuing what he was doing to me that is threatening me and sexually harassing me. This was still going on and my little sister grew up knowing I was a bad girl. It came to a point where anything happened to her she would say it is me.
On 22 April 2008, I got a baby brother and now I felt my life was at the peak. I didn’t want to live anymore and attempted three suicides. God remained faithful and kept me alive. It was on the second term of my grade 6 and I was transferred from a private to a public school which was 8km away from home. I was forced to walk all the way and come back home remember no lunch for me. In 2009, it was time for my sister to join [to go to] school. She was brought to the school I was which made my life more and more difficult because I carried the girl at my back every morning to school. My going to school late and tired became a habit and whenever I raised the issue, I was beaten and threatened that I will not join high school. I faced rejection, hatred, insult, and isolation. My brother and sister were growing knowing am the baddest person on earth. I went to a different church from the family so that I can come back home and do the house chores at this time. I was not allowed to stay with my siblings become it was believed I had no good intentions towards them.
In 2010, a church friend of my mom noticed she hasn’t seen me for a while and decided to visit us at home. She asked me if am fine and my response was positive but she was not convinced. She decided to pay my school fees and she ordered that I go back to my previous school. My dad was not happy and started accusing me of witchcraft, asking ‘why it is only me and not any other person.’ At this point, I decided to run from home – hoping after five years of tears and pain, I will come to my rescue. I didn’t know where to go but I started my journey in February on a Tuesday. I boarded a bus to a place called Kiserian and another one to Nairobi. I had no money but I reached Nairobi. I stayed in Nairobi for three days without food, just loitering and later I decided to call my mom with a stranger’s phone and she came to my rescue. The following Monday I was taken to school. I tried being strong by working hard but my life was miserable until I was through with my primary school. I promised myself that I will not live any longer and attempted another two suicides; I found myself alive.
I was enrolled in high school in 2011 which made me happy but inside I was dying. I knew the battle isn’t over yet because, during the holidays, I would go home. [In Kenya, most high schools are boarding schools.] My first holiday that was in April, I went home and this gave my dad a chance to rape me. He threatened me with a knife that if I said he will kill me. After four weeks, I went back to school. While in school, I started developing ulcers and depression. I started falling sick each day and this forced me to go home. While my mother was nursing me, I opened up to her about what dad was doing. [I thought she would defend me but] It came out the opposite and she defended her husband. She told me that I was lying. Later that evening she told the man what I told her during the day. The man denied and told my mom that I am cursed and that she should let me get married because I was a grown up at 13 years. I got well and went back to school. I got more depressed and started fainting. One of the teachers realized that nothing was going well with me. She decided to call me and ask me [about] the problem. I opened up to her. She went ahead and explained the matter to the principal. The principal made an arrangement of visiting a counselor and a doctor at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital. I started the medication together with the counseling sessions which was of great help.
The principal did not only helped me get well. She also [helped me] find a good home for me at the Cara Girls Rescue Center. The center took good care of me and they also counselled me. After some weeks, I had no one to pay my school fees there. I was transferred to AIC girls where I would get a sponsor and continue with my studies. After I got someone to support me, I went back to Cara Girls Rescue Center where I am till date. Being suffered for eight good years–my all childhood life has been a hell. There was no love, no care, and no mercy even from my own mother. I promised myself that I will never allow any child or anyone go through what I went through. Through this, I have always admired to be a Gender and Development CEO. I am working towards the goal. I am in my second year of studying in Gender, Women, and Development Studies. I have joined Egerton University Human Rights Club and an organization, Family Health Options Kenya, which deals with sexual health. It involves educating peers about sex and what they should do when their rights are violated. In the future, I am planning to do a Masters in Gender, Peace, and Security. I must ensure children especially the ones living with their stepparents to have full access of their mental peace, and the young girls and women who can’t raise their voices. I aspire to give people light and hope and reasons to enjoy their lives. I have realised I never enjoyed life. I just lived because it was a must but now it is time to live in reality. This is what am supposed to do: make people live the reality life, the life they deserve and deal with the ones that come in between their peace, joy, happiness and their rights.
I believe I am an agent for change. I must bring a change AND WE WILL RULE THE WORLD.
I read “The Presumption of Guilt: The new liberal standard turns American due process upside down” the other day. I found this piece presumptuous at worst, and revelatory at best. The WSJ editorial board outlines three core tenets potentially derailing due process in the Kavanaugh appointment, most notably the presumption of his guilt. These core tenets, in the board’s estimation, will defend against a mockery of “the new liberal standard of legal and political due process.” What strikes me most about this piece is the presentation of their core beliefs about the justice system in America: “The core tenet of Anglo-American law is that the burden of proof always rests with the person making the accusation.” What the board revealed is the ever-present reality that populations of color in this country know and experience daily, and this fact is symbolized in the very name of the board’s ideal legal system itself: Anglo-Saxon. The law is not as colorblind or unbiased as the justice system would have us believe. The law is not for the protection of all; it is for the protection of Anglo-Americans. It is a law to the exclusion of everyone else. This blog, using the outlined WSJ tenets as section headers, speaks to the presumption of guilt applied daily to marginalized populations without due process.
Tenet #1: The core tenet of Anglo-American law is that the burden of proof always rests on the person making the accusation. Non-whites do not get the benefit of the doubt, even when video evidence, witness statements, or 911 recordings indicate otherwise. For marginalized persons, few opportunities transpire to make an accusation or offer a defense. Consider any number of non-threatening Sikhs, Muslims, Native Americans, or Blacks who find themselves on the receiving end of the “fear” of a White person for their safety. The accusatory nature of white America against persons of color, especially Blacks, living their lives has become so galvanized that #whileblack is a social media phenomenon.
#WhileBlack spotlights White Americans willingly interfering and causing disruption in the lives of Black people. Whether a politician canvassing a neighborhood or realtor checking on a property or a White grandmother riding home with her Black grandson, White Americans usage of the police as quenchers of irrational fear may result in the death of another unarmed and unassuming citizen. A few months ago, a group of Black women packed their car following their vacation when White residents phoned the police, accusing the women of robbing the AirBnB house where they stayed. Even after pleading their case, the officers did not believe the Black women. A White student at Yale phoned the police on two different Black students on two different occasions because she believed they did not belong on the campus. Colorado campus police detained two Native American students visiting a university when a White parent complained that the boys seemed threatening because they did not say much during the tour. In addition to highlighting the direct and structural violence that non-Whites face over the course of the day, #whileBlack showcases that the mastery of accusation and othering heavily favors the dominant party.
Tenet #2: An accusation isn’t any more or less credible because of the gender, race, religion or ethnicity of who makes it. This tenet suggests that any accusation is worthy of address. Recent history, including accusations against Roy Moore and this current case, tell us that many Americans presume the innocence of white males in the entertainment industry and political arena over white women. Thus, revealing a gender bias. Just ask Bill O’Reilly, Les Moonves, and Louis C.K. Presently the exceptions to this rule are men of color like Aziz Ansari and Bill Cosby.
Accusations of sexual misconduct by women of color are often dismissed or discredited. In 1991, Anita Hill came forward with allegations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. When Lupita Nyong’o said Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed her, Weinstein denied the possibility of it, despite more than 40 other women making similar and more explicit claims. This tenet, however, is inaccurate if you are Carolyn Bryant or Donald Trump. Carolyn Bryant lied to a judge and jury in 1955. With that lie, she sentenced Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago, to a lynching by Bryant’s husband and other family members. Donald Trump, in 2008, initiated and perpetuated the birther narrative about President Obama. Despite the release of Obama’s birth certificate in 2011, many doubt Obama and believe Trump.
Tenet #3: The right to cross-examine an accuser. This tenet is the crux of due process as exercised under the auspices of a third party, whether a mediator, a judge, or an adjudicator. “The denial of cross-examination is a major reason that campus panels adjudicating sexual-assault claims have become kangaroo courts.” The right to confront an accuser is a component of justice; however, in many cases of sexual assault and violence, there is an invoking of “boys will be boys” and/ or “that’s just what we did in high school and college” to bypass cross-examination and the potential for prosecution altogether. This flippant attitude is primary to the problem. A double standard has always existed when describing the sexual behaviors of men and women.
In conclusion, what is interesting is for all the chatter of due process in this piece, the WSJ editorial board fail to recognize that due process is exactly what the women who have stepped forward desire. Due process allows the accusers the opportunity to tell their sides of the story and Kavanaugh to tell his side. It allows for cross-examination and a committee of his peers to decide if he should find himself rewarded with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Due process should bring about a more just society and system.
If the failure to administer due process signals “the new liberal standard”, how does it apply to conservative-led initiatives? Republicans control the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary – in effect, the Republican party is the chief executor of due process in all branches of government. Are Americans to infer that government officials have not implemented the due process as standard operating procedure? If there is a failure of due process, the burden of responsibility falls at the feet of the Republicans.
Due process seems like an overarching ideal outworked in the request to receive all the documents concerning his judgeship so proper vetting could take place in preparation for the confirmation hearing. It seems like a logical next step when considering the “committee confidential” emails that should not have been confidential; if there is nothing to hide, given the presumption of innocence and blind trust this society is to have for its leaders. Why is a due process so important in this case and for this person but not for others?
Where are the demands for due process for the children stolen from their parents and held hostage by the government as migrant families seek refuge in a country that once held so much promise? Where are the demands for due process when unarmed men, women, and children are murdered in their schools or on playgrounds, or streets or in their homes? Where are the demands for due process for the thousands of survivors of abuse in the Catholic Church? Where are the cries for due process when individuals commit suicide because they experience bullying because of something they cannot change or choose?
Articles 6-12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outline the basic tenets of due process. If Kavanaugh has nothing to hide and believes, as an officer of the court, that the system is just, then he should have no issue facing his accusers, calling a cross-examination, and letting the justice system work. Unless he knows the demands for due process are inequitable because justice is not just.
What is the meaning of “due process” as a component of the justice system, if a potential justice stymies the rights of accusers during his pursuit of a position in the highest court of the land as an executor of the justice system?
Growing up, I was resentful of the social freedoms my male friends naturally enjoyed. Unlike the parents of my male friends, my parents were very strict about things like curfews, not being outside at night alone, and avoiding certain neighborhoods. My dad would always say, “We trust you, but we don’t trust the people around you”. Although I was still resentful, I know my father enforced those stringent rules because he was trying his best to protect me from gender based violence (GBV). GBV is defined as violence towards an individual that is motivated based on his or her gender identity, biological gender, “or perceived adherence to socially defined norms of masculinity and femininity”. The term ‘violence’ encompasses physical, sexual, and psychological abuse along with coercion, threats and compromised liberty. Examples of GBV include sexual violence like rape, domestic violence, and human trafficking. Both men and women are affected by GBV; however it is recognized women and girls are at most risk for exposure due to the imbalanced power relations between men and women “which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men … and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.”
Violence against women and girls is a prevalent human rights violation resulting in disproportionate negative consequences on females’ physical, mental and sexual and reproductive wellbeing including but limited to including, but not limited to: “i) fatal outcomes; ii) acute and chronic physical injuries and disabilities, iii) serious mental health problems and behavioral deviations increasing the risk of subsequent victimization and iv) gynecological disorders, unwanted pregnancies, obstetric complications and HIV/AIDS .”
Some troubling statistics on GBV:
In 2014, a UNICEF study projected that ~120 million girls (almost 1 in 10) under the age of 20 have been forced to perform sexual intercourse or other sexual acts during some point of their lives.
Globally, the WHO estimates 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner or non-partner violence or sexual violence. Other national studies have estimated up to 70% of women experience GBV.
“Women and girls together account for 71 per cent, with girls representing nearly three out of every four child trafficking victims. Nearly three out of every four trafficked women and girls are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.”
Although a pressing issue, it wasn’t until 1992 when the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) formally adopted General Recommendation No. 19: Violence against Women (GR 19), which legally categorized violence against women a distinct form of discrimination. Likewise, it wasn’t until 1993 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW), forming the first ever internationally-recognized definition of GBV. Both documents explicitly outline how GBV violates basic human rights mentioned throughout the UDHR such as the right to life, dignity, and health.
Health Effects of Exposure to GBV
Sexual and Reproductive Health GBV is a major public health concern contributing to mass amounts of mortality and morbidity. Specifically, the relationship between GBV and HIV and other STIs has been recognized as an important pathway for the contraction and spread of such diseases. WHO states that, in some regions, women facing sexual partner violence are 1.5x more likely to contract HIV, and 1.6x more likely to contract syphilis. Here’s how:
First, increased vulnerability to HIV and STI’s stems from sexual violence such as rape. “Violence reduces victims’ abilities to influence the timing and circumstances of sex, resulting in more unwanted sex and less condom use, including situations where women are coerced or pressured not to use condoms.” For example, of the estimated minimum 250,000 women brutally raped during the Rwanda Genocide, 70% of those survivors tragically acquired HIV.
Second, another important pathway from GBV to HIV is men who are physically violent are also more likely to be HIV positive. Studies find violent men are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior such as having multiple sex partners and utilizing transactional sex, increasing their chances of contracting and spreading HIV and other STIs.
Along with the spread of disease, women and girls experience unwanted pregnancies due to GBV. The WHO states that women with previous exposure to GBV are more likely to account having had a self-induced abortion. Globally, “80 million unintended pregnancies each year, at least half are terminated through induced abortion and nearly half of those take place in unsafe conditions.” A study analyzing the relationship between GBV and sexual and reproductive health among low-income youth in three Brazilian cities, supports WHO’s statement that women in abusive relationships are more likely to experience unwanted pregnancies. The study found adolescent females who became pregnant as teenagers were more likely to have been victims of controlling behavior or physical abuse compared to teenage girls whom have never gotten pregnant. Among the girls who got pregnant as a teenager during the study, “20% reported having suffered physical violence from a partner and 10% reported having been subjected to sexual violence from a partner, compared to 5% and 3% respectively of those who did not get pregnant as teenagers.”
Along with physical harm, studies highlight women and children face serious mental health problems after enduring traumatic experiences with GBV. “Exposures to traumatic events can lead to stress, fear and isolation, which, in turn, may lead to depression and suicidal behavior.” According to the WHO, women abused by a non-partner are 2.3 times more likely to have alcohol use disorders and 2.6 times more likely to have depression or anxiety. A cross-sectional study based on the Australian National Mental Health and Well-being Survey in 2007 found that of the 4,451 female respondents, 1,218 (27.45%) of the women have experienced one of the four types of GBV analyzed in the study (IPV, stalking, sexual assault, and rape). Of the 139 women who experienced at least three types of GBV, the rates for mental disorders were 77.3% for anxiety disorders, 47.1% for substance abuse disorders, 34.7% for attempted suicide, and 56.2% for PTSD.
Potential Solutions to Address Gender-Based Violence
In light in of April being sexual assault awareness month, itself a form of GBV, it is essential to break through the culture of silence. Our health care system can be more active is addressing the prevention of GBV, and also the aftermath of GBV. First, providing survivors with mental health services such as counseling is critical for these women and girls to address their psychological trauma and progress with their lives. Mental health services are vital in providing survivors a voice to express themselves. Second, our health care system could potentially be a major stakeholder in identifying and stopping GBV.
“GBV is very common, but most health care providers fail to diagnose and register GBV, not only due to socio-cultural and traditional barriers, lack of time, resources and inadequate physical facilities; but even more so due to lack of awareness, knowledge and poor clinical practices with limited direct communication and failure to do a full physical examination, not to mention register and monitor the effectiveness and quality of care.”
Moving forward, there needs to be a systematic change within in the health sector. The World Bank, amongst other NGO’s, have provided approaches on how to address this issue. Some strategies to consider include, but of course not limited to:
1) Requiring GBV screenings during doctor visits to ensure early intervention
2) Train and educate health care personal about GBV to improve provider’s knowledge, medical services and attitudes towards GBV.
3) Providing survivors access to adequate infrastructure within hospitals which includes private counseling and examination rooms.
Women are approximately 50% of our global population, yet gender-based violence is one of the most prevalent and widespread human rights violations. Gender equity is an inalienable right protected in numerous human rights documents, however change will never be achievable until we break this vicious cycle of violence through education and strict policy changes. Ultimately, women have proven they are just as equally capable as men, and gender-based violence and discrimination over an uncontrollable biological factor is simply unjust.
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