‘I will never be cut’: Kenyan girls fight back against genital mutilation
A documentary from Guardian News & Media (UK). The film won the 2012 Webby and the People’s Choice award for individual documentary.
The Guardian, 18 April 2011:
A remote village in the hills of Northern Kenya, two teenage girls attempt an unprecedented rebellion, and refuse female genital mutilation. This is an extraordinary film because it shows you something that outsiders rarely see: the conflicts within intimate relationships triggered by social change.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) horrifies – and bewilders – westerners who find it incomprehensible that a mother would allow her daughter to be so brutally amputated with all the risks of infection, difficult childbirth and deprivation of sexual pleasure. What this film does is to show how custom – even when violent and dangerous – embeds itself in social expectations. These girls are not considered eligible by prospective husbands until they have been cut; their parents need the income from a dowry to shore up precarious family finances. Standing out against such powerful conventions is difficult, dangerous, and costs money.
But even worse it causes huge emotional conflict within the closest, most important relationships. We see a daughter arguing with her mother over why she refuses to be cut, and a wife arguing with her husband. One of the most poignant moments is when Nancy, an exemplary daughter in every respect, challenges her mother’s authority. She doesn’t want a life like her mother’s, she declares. You can see the bewildered hurt on the mother’s face; this kind of rejection may be familiar to many a western parent but perhaps still a novelty in a culture where the idea of making your own fate in life, particularly for a girl, is completely alien.
Implicit in this rejection is a judgment of the inadequacy of the mother’s life, a repudiation of her form of love. “I don’t want to grind stones all my life like you,” says Nancy. “I bury you, you bury me in a vicious cycle of daughter and mother.”
“You are killing me,” says Nancy’s mother, adding: “I am defeated, I am confused.” It’s painful to witness her humiliation at the hands of her daughter. In a culture where respect and deference to your elders, particularly from women, is sacrosanct, such rebellion requires a huge strength of character and determination.
Nancy is also challenging her mother’s preferential treatment of her brother. Nancy’s cutting is the price of her brother’s secondary education. Her dowry will pay his school fees. If every aspect of a culture reinforces this kind of preferential treatment of sons, how does a girl begin to challenge it.? At one point Nancy even threatens to run away and cut all ties with her family. This kind of process of social change requires a rejection of crucial aspects of identity as a woman, as a member of a family with strong ties of responsibility.
Another girl, Gertrude, is equally defiant in her rejection of FGM. She runs away to her grandmother, she threatens suicide. She is much loved by her father but he has already received some of a dowry for her and he insists she must be cut; he is conflicted between his affection for his daughter and his hard-headed calculation of family material wellbeing. That is a conflict only understandable within the context of real poverty. Gertrude’s mother is the heroine as we see a scene in which she skilfully manages the father, defending her daughter. He threatens to throw her out, rejects her food. She calmly sits out his temper. But the risk of family breakdown over the issue is clearly apparent.
A girl cutting herself off from her family with all the risks that entails; a divorce: these are the worst possible scandals in rural life in Kenya with punishingly high costs for the women involved. The film is a vivid depiction of how high the stakes are for women to challenge convention in many parts of rural Africa.
The Winning Women: Pokot woman becomes councillor
A short documentary from NTV in Kenya about Lucy Lotee, the first women in West Pokot County to be elected as a councillor, which was first aired in 2012.
FGM in West Pokot
A short film (split into three segments) from K24’s Untold Stories Series in Kenya about FGM in West Pokot.
Women and girls in West Pokot
Another short film (split into two segments) from K24’s Untold Stories Series in Kenya.