Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, PhD (Editor in-Chief and Publisher – SiA Magazine)
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 June 2015
A couple of weeks or so ago Reverend Kabs Kanu’s Cocorioko, published a cover picture of some random, recycled internet image of a presumably African woman – her arms flailing and she is screaming in either horrific pain or terror or both. Her bottom half is cut off from sight, so we don’t know what is going on – is she giving birth? No.
The sensational headlines invite the reader to conclude that she is a victim of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), allegedly the greatest crime against girls and women in Africa and beyond.
Whilst Cocorioko – a Sierra Leonean owned pro-government online newspaper, was busy publically and globally humiliating the vast majority of Sierra Leonean adult women as well as our mothers and grandmothers – through this demeaning representation of Bondo society, the American upscale women’s lifestyle magazine Vanity Fair, stole the show last week with a front cover outing of Caitlyn Jenner, the newly transformed white Bondo woman (Photo: Above).
So, what do I mean by this? How can I equate Bruce Jenner’s turning into Caitlyn Jenner with Bondo or so called FGM in Sierra Leone?
First of all, as a proud and sexually confident Bondo woman I reject the term “mutilation”.
This scare mongering propaganda is meant to force us (African women), to question why some of us continue to refer to ourselves as “mutilated”, when it is clear that the very white women who invented that term to define us, would never use this language or concept to describe their own genital modifications – whether on girls or adult women.
But this article does more than that. I want us to consider something more insidious that is happening here.
Not only have we been invited by white women (and many of us have accepted) to denigrate our vaginas as mutilated and to accuse our mothers of complicity in an African patriarchal conspiracy to deprive us of sexual pleasure and womanhood, but we have allowed these same women to appropriate – that is: to steal and make as their own, the very genital operations and ideologies behind them that our mothers, grandmothers, and female ancestors handed down to us.
I have argued that this is what is going on in the increasing popularity and demand for Female Genital Cosmetic Surgeries (FGCS) by mainly white western women and underage girls.
Although many FGCS procedures have the same anatomical and aesthetic effects as so-called FGM, the latter term is reserved for only non-white women and girls, especially those of us from Africa.
But the highest form of cultural appropriation goes beyond the things, objects or practices that are stolen (i.e. the different types of female genital surgeries); it is the theft of the ideologies behind them that really matters.
There’s no need for me to get too academic here. It’s a simple process that can be described in another every day example: You’re in the office. You submit a proposal to your boss. She tells you that it’s poorly written, it doesn’t make much sense and is only going to take the company backward. Believing that your boss clearly knows best and lacking the confidence to assert yourself, you chuck the proposal in the dust bin.
One month later you’re at a departmental staff meeting. Your boss clears her throat and presents “her” new proposal that will take the company to new and greater heights. You recognize your ideas, even your style of writing; but your boss changed the title. She has misused her position and power and appropriated your proposal, meaning she stole your work and ideas and made it her own.
Introducing Caitlyn Jenner: Western feminists and the liberal media celebrate the radical sex and gender transformation of Bruce Jenner, a sexually ambiguous manchild, into Caitlyn Jenner and advertise her global “coming out” ceremoniously on the cover of Vanity Fair as a psychosexually complete and biologically constructed adult female. Uh hello?
Can we revisit the launching of the new SiA Magazine in March of last year, where I devoted several articles to discussing how female and male circumcision in Africa are concerned with the transformation of androgynous “children” into adult females or adult males respectively?
So I say to Khadija Gbla, Jahar Dukureh, and so many other FGM poster children, this ceremonial coming out of a sexually transformed Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair is downright cultural appropriation, the theft and modern remarketing of your mothers’ and grandmothers’ ancestral knowledge, ideologies and ritual initiation practices… their proposal that was for your eyes only. (Photo: Dr. Fuambai Sia Ahmadu).
How long are we educated, westernized, circumcised African women going to remain stuck on the label they gave us back in the office, “mutilation” – the idea that we are deficient, not good enough, half-woman and a victim of male oppression.
They asked us to throw away our culture, our history and our knowledge in the dust bin. And some of us did just that. After all, the white woman’s the boss; she knows better. And heck, some of us are even lucky to be where we are with her help and mentorship.
With our African cultural ideas about androgyny, sex and gender ridiculed, dismissed and forgotten, we are now sold a newly repackaged, manufactured, modern version of the Bondo masquerade…she says, call her Caitlyn.
Ok Caitlyn, did you know that “becoming female” and “becoming male” rituals existed thousands of years before modern transgender rituals of transformation?
For example, the Mande speaking peoples of West Africa – that comprise the Bambara, Mandinka, Mende, Su-Su, Kono, Vai, Kpelle and so on – have for hundreds if not thousands of years consciously transformed sexually ambiguous “children” into culturally and biologically constructed adult women and men who are then celebrated in public coming out ceremonies?
They are even given a new name to mark their transition and new adult sex/gender social status. Western feminists and anti-FGM activists have refused to acknowledge these more compelling interpretations of female and male initiation and circumcision in African countries, claiming instead that culture is no excuse for torture.
These practices, notably female circumcision, are demonized as barbaric and misogynistic.
But the renamed Caitlyn and her multimillion dollar global coming out ceremony on Vanity Fair as a white, western female is applauded as a global feminist victory? The question now being asked once again by western feminists is, who or what is a woman?
In the western politically correct view, it’s apparently perfectly okay for a white male to literally or metaphorically remove his penis to become a white woman. But it is anti-feminist for an African woman to remove her relatively smaller external clitoral hood and glans, her literal or symbolic penis, in the same name of womanhood.
And, to be certain, this is not about children – the general global permissibility of infant male circumcision and now FGCS performed on underage white girls in western countries are cases in point.
To bring the analogy a little closer to home: Take someone like me, born as a western defined biological female of African descent in the good old USA. As an adult woman at the age of 21, I chose to journey back to Sierra Leone with my mother, aunts and grandmother to be initiated into the community of adult women, also known as Bondo or Sande, in accordance with my Kono ancestral traditions.
My unique experience and clear exercise of autonomy has been dismissed by well-known western feminists like journalist Michelle Goldberg and scholar Chantal Zabus; I am not seen as making a choice, but simply and blindly following my African patriarchal tradition.
According to these women who know more about myself than I do, I wanted to belong and be accepted. Any other psychological reason is cool; just don’t call it choice. African women and girls don’t have choices.
Fast forward some twenty odd years later, someone named Bruce Jenner, born as a western defined biological male in this same USA decides that he is really a woman (and admits he had known of his sexual ambiguity since childhood) and wants to enter the world of western womanhood.
As an adult man at the age of 65, this formerly definitive man’s man and Olympic athlete, chooses to undergo western female initiation in accordance with the modern, ritual protocols of western medicine or gender reassignment surgeries. Caitlyn Jenner is hailed by the western liberal media, feminists and much of the western world as a true “woman”.
She is even awarded a medal of courage (the same courage that is valued and celebrated in our traditional African female initiation rituals) and is congratulated by her famous Kardashian daughters, other family and close friends.
She has paid the price of womanhood with her heart, soul, body and importantly, her blood. She has achieved what no Sierra Leonean man can ever lay claim to in our country – entering Bondo or the sacred world of circumcised adult women.
Make no mistake, the world of western womanhood that Caitlyn has gained privileged entry into is all about surgical transformations – face, neck, breast and body lifts; lip, cheek, breast, butt implants; botox injections, laser surgeries and yes all kinds of minor to severe genital cosmetic surgeries (clitoral hood removals, clitoral reductions, labia trimming, vaginal tightening etc.) and the creation of the vagina itself.
My own choice to experience a relatively minor physical transformation in accordance with my African traditions and in the hands of African women is dismissed by western feminists, yet Caitlyn’s medicalized female initiation and radical gender transformation is celebrated?
This, I offer, is the ultimate expression and global affirmation of white male privilege – aided and abetted by the very western feminists who have the audacity to judge my own ancestral privilege to become an initiated, circumcised Bondo woman.
With the public celebration of their androgynous Bondo debul, Caitlyn Jenner, the community of western feminist powers that be still wants to define women like me as “mutilated” and criminalize our mothers. They turn around and declare that Caitlyn is “beautiful” and empowered.
Caitlyn’s mother in particular is regarded as a hero for accepting her biological son’s radical castration and psychosexual initiation into western womanhood. Seriously??? Ah taya sef!
The disturbing part of this is that, some of my educated Sierra Leonean sisters who have never been to Bondo (and even a few who have) are ready to bring the anti-FGM campaign to Sierra Leone to enlighten and civilize our mothers and grandmothers.
Ah beg boh! As for Kabs-Kanu and Cocorioko, you will surely answer to the Bondo and Sande women of Sierra Leone come 2017.
Oh yes, call me SiA.
When I hear of another death due to female circumcision aka Bondo, my heart bleeds profusely. All I could simply say to the GoSL is “BAN” this ungodly traditional and cultural practice out-rightly without any fear or hesitation. But, the locals are a very obstinate and stubborn people. May God have mercy on the women, including the witches and wicked Soweis of the country.
Among the more than 22 organs of the (female) human body is the external vaginal clitoris. Any attempt to medicalize by anesthetizing the clitoris before excising and chopping it off will be fully resisted as unwarranted and unnecessary to God’s creative work. Sure, charges will definitely include:
1. Attempt to corruptly alter God’s handiwork;
2. and long jail terms, with a minimum of 10 years imprisonment, will constitute the legal penalties for these
illegal actions intentionally meted on the human body. Amen.
I just read from the Awareness Times Newspaper an article, on female genital cutting (fgc) aka Bondo, titled:
“Sierra Leone: Why Always Port Loko? Why? Why?,” published on August 12, 2016 by Abdul Malik Bangura.
The Sierra Leone Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Hon. Rugiatu Neneh Turay, is accused of saying that ‘genitally mutilated or Bondo Women are not sweet during mating.’
She is right in saying that. Because the clitoris is the hub of the Gräfenberg spot or G-spot characterized as an erogenous area of the vagina that, when stimulated, may lead to strong sexual arousal, powerful orgasms and potential female ejaculation. It is typically reported to be located 5–8 cm (2–3 in) up the front (anterior) vaginal wall between the vaginal opening and the urethra and is a sensitive area that may be part of the female prostate. It is an extension of the clitoris and the cause of orgasms experienced vaginally.
See “Morris, Desmond (2004). The Naked Woman: A Study of the Female Body. New York: Thomas Dunne Books. pp. 211–212.”
Consequently, when the hub or central part of the wheel is excised and chopped off, everything then goes on falling apart thereby losing its tensile strength and taste wastefully. Conserve and preserve the female genital hub i.e. the clitoris without tampering and cutting it out. Stop the unnecessary genital pain, bloodletting and clitoral consumption. That’s wickedness and witchcraft. Ban it!
Remember that the life of every creature is its BLOOD. Therefore, if you spill the BLOOD you kill the creature.
See The Holy Bible, “Leviticus 17:14 a” on this life giving and understanding scripture. (NIV.)
As a matter of fact, unmutilated women while accused of being socially dirty or unclean people they are in fact morally unblemished, sexually undamaged and perfect individuals without any organ loss. They are holistic. Amen.
Where were you all along when the Sierra Leone Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs by the name of Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden made the following statements on FGM, which were published on July 11, 2016 right here on The Sierra Leone Telegraph with the caption:
‘Sierra Leone respects the right of consenting adults to choose – says minister Blyden.’?
“Therefore, the insistence from some quarters for an “elimination” of what they term as “female genital mutilation” is, I daresay, an exhibition of tunnel vision.
Those proponents have to start thinking outside the box. If an adult Sierra Leone woman opts to follow the traditions of her female ancestors and willingly elects to have her genitals cut or re-sized, I will respect her right to do what she wants to do with her body.
When you can get the United States of America, Great Britain and other Western countries to ban or eliminate labiaplasty and clitoridotomy (i.e: mutilation of their genitals) amongst adult women in those Western countries, then you can come to Sierra Leone and get us to ban such among our adult women who seek to have such.”
You can easily access the article itself and read it for yourself.
Do you have any comment(s) on this article?
Cosmetic vaginoplasty is the logical consequence of insecure women with too much money and nothing more important to worry about, being indoctrinated into patriarchal notions of what a woman should be.
Are you seriously trying to suggest that the majority of women are happy about this? No self respecting feminist supports the cosmetic industry.
We consider all non medical, cosmetic invasive treatments to be mutilations designed to make women feel more sexually attractive or socially acceptable to men.
We recognise this as the result of female oppression, socialisation and grooming.
I dont know why you think this is a race issue. This is a woman’s issue.
And by the way, Jenner is a bloke. he has not had genital surgery and he has nothing to do with the FGM debate.
You have no right to speak on behalf of the countless female babies, infants and children subjected to genital mutilation without consent and the lifetime of suffering, pain, scarring, incontinence and infection, bereft of the possibility of mutual sexual pleasure in intimacy.
Also, the fear and terrible tearing in childbirth that countless women suffer, having been subjected to this barbaric, savage procedure in childhood.
As a midwife, I have cared for victims of FGM in pregnancy and childbirth and not ONCE have I seen an iota of cultural pride in families whose female members have suffered this.
Quite the reverse; I have cared for women in labour pressured to lie about the origin of her scars and coerced into silence by male and female relatives attending her.
I have seen only spousal and family abuse, shame, fear and pain associated with the culture of FGM. These women are discharged from hospital with their newborns and numberless stitches, knowing full well the only expectation of them is to reproduce again and again until they are worn out.
They then proceed to spend the rest of their lives struggling in silence with prolapse, incontinence, pain, infection, having never even known the mutual, reciprocal love, joy and pleasure in the acts of sexual intimacy that brought about their pregnancies.
This treatment of females is as far from family honour as it is possible to be. It is not how decent civilised people honour and respect their wives, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters and daughters.
It is not how children are brought into the world in love and mutual parental respect. These children are destined to watch their mothers being demeaned and diminished as human beings, as second class citizens groomed to depend on male sexual approval rather than be accepted as human beings in their own right with valid hopes, ideas, dreams and plans of their own.
FGM is fundamentally a misogynistic practice perpetuated by men and women who for whatever reason are invested in a deeply patriarchal culture, where the female sex class are mere reproductive chattels.
Where females only exist for the sexual benefit of males and are expected to devote themselves to a lifetime of reproductive and domestic labour unpaid and without rights.
Perhaps it escaped your notice, but in 2016, concepts like mutual trust, loyalty and love continue to exist and coercive control of anyone is considered criminally abusive.
So speak for yourself – you are no different to anyone who chooses to mutilate their genitals or any other part of their body to validate themselves or fit themselves into a paradigm they feel attracted or beholden to, but you have no business in the destruction and mutilation of children’s healthy bodies.
Anyone who thinks they do is highly suspect and should have their motives closely examined by the relevant authorities, as should the cutters and surgeons prepared to destroy healthy, functional human body parts without medical reason.
What kind of parents want to mess with their children’s genitals anyway? Why do they think they have the right to surgically alter their daughters and sons healthy genitals under any circumstances, especially when all of these procedures could easily wait until the individual concerned is old enough to decide for themselves and sign their own consent form.
The point of dispute is simple. FGM for 12 year olds = NO CONSENT GIVEN.
FGM for a 21 year old = FREE WILL AND CONSENT GIVEN.
Sexual Reassignment Surgery = CONSENT FREEE WILL.
I think the whole article’s argument collapses in on itself on this simple point.
The author of this article, from her own admission was a 21 year old woman when she DECIDED to join the Bondo society. I don’t think anyone cares what adult women do with their bodies.
If they want to go to the bush and allow other women to carve up their genitalia, that’s their business.
A 65 year old man certainly has the right to do what he wants to with his body. Dr. Ahmadu is comparing apples to oranges. Girls of 8, 10, and 12 years cannot give their consent to have this procedure done.
So why not give these girls the same opportunity she had as an adult, to allow them to make a decision about Bondo as grown women?
Sorry to say, but I don’t agree with every practice or belief of my mother’s generation. I don’t have to tell her that she’s wrong, I just don’t agree and I don’t subscribe to those practices.
We are individuals with different beliefs. Sometimes in life, there is no right or wrong – there are just differences. It’s not about good or bad, it’s just about being different.
I don’t think it’s necessary to vilify those who don’t agree with the practices of the Bondo society, nor should those who admire the virtues of the society be frowned upon.
Like other activities in society, there should be respect for the age of consent and allow women to decide what is best for their bodies.
I am tempted to ask what is the point of this article. It would seem to me that some of these practices are things that we have to leave behind us, if we are to mature as a society.
And it is absolutely appalling that the views expressed in this article is by someone with a PHD.
The comparison of FGM with Bruce Jenner’s sex change is ludicrous and only seems to have been made to comment on a topical issue. There is no consideration given to the appalling conditions under which FGM takes place, the absence in the majority of cases of untrained women undertaking the procedure, the cleanliness of implements which are being used, the consequences to girls when things go wrong, the impact on women in adulthood and the rights of children to consent to such barbaric acts.
What ever the rights or wrongs of Bruce Jenner”s actions are – at least he did so with his own free will. This is not the case of FGM.
When educated folk put out crap opinion as contained in this piece – it is not surprising that Sierra Leone is in such a dark place.