Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On Female Circumcision (FGM) in Kenya/Tanzania

As you may know, the project in which I was participating in Kenya was supposed to have had a focus on Female Genital Mutilation (called female circumcision in Kenya) and early marriage, i.e. the cultural practice wherein girls are married at very young ages to older men. As it turned out, the project had nothing to do with those practices. More on that later.

The area in which I was working is called Kuria, after the people who populate it. Kenya has dozens of different tribal identities, and Kuria people are found in the southwest of the country, in an area that spans the border with Tanzania. About 2/3 of Kuria people live in Tanzania, and about 1/3 live in Kenya. Although some Kenyan tribes don't practice female circumcision, among the Kuria it is a very strongly held cultural tradition. In that area of the country, the prevalence rate is believed to be over 90%. The good news is that the tradition seems to be slowly waning, and is not as common or accepted among the younger generation. I met many women who said that the practice stops with them; that they will not subject their daughters to it, although they themselves were circumcised. It is very easy to criticize the practice of FGM, especially if you do not understand the cultural context, and hard to understand how difficult it is for women and girls in these communities who counter tradition. Women and girls who resist FGM face enormous pressure and censure from their families and their communities. They may be shunned, or become victims of violence or other human rights abuses. Here is an ARTICLE about the cultural forces at work among the Kuria (here spelled Kurya) people in Tanzania, and how some women are resisting FGM, forced marriage, and other cultural traditions that violate their rights and their endanger their health.

In related news, the Ugandan Parliament officially OUTLAWED FGM on December 15th of this year. Mind you, FGM is illegal in many countries, including Kenya, yet still widely practiced. But having a law on the books, and stiff penalties, is of course an important step.

(links to articles are in caps)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I'm Back! Article in NY Times re Menopause and Drugs

I got back from Kenya last week and I'm happy to say that things went very smoothly. And I didn't get sick! The project turned out to be rather different than I had anticipated, but I had been told by people who had done development work in Africa that I should not have fixed expectations, and that turned out to be very good advice.  As I anticipated, there wasn't much internet access, so I was unable to post from there. I do of course want to tell you about the trip, and I will, but I haven't even uploaded photos to my computer yet. In fact I haven't finished unpacking yet! I just wanted to check in, and also draw your attention to an article in the New York times regarding the pharmaceutical "treatment" of menopause.

I'm not sure what prompted this article, as it's not linked to a specific topical event. Rather, it presents an overview of the pharmaceutical industry's cashing in on menopause, and how recently the tide has turned against the drug companies as women are winning big suits for damages caused by these drugs. Of course no amount of damages will bring back the tens of thousands of women who have died from endometrial and breast cancer as a result of these drugs, but it's good to see that the judicial system is holding the drug companies accountable. Ultimately, they will only listen to their bottom line. If women stop buying the drugs, and if the lawsuits make these drugs unprofitable, they will turn their attention elsewhere, and find some other condition to pathologize and exploit.

Like premature ejaculation. (The illustration alone is worth clicking on the link.) Good lord! I love the quote from Lenore Tiefer, my colleague from The New View Campaign: “Rapid ejaculation as opposed to slow ejaculation is common, but there is slow and fast everything in the world: slow and fast walkers, slow and fast eaters, slow and fast breathers,” said Dr. Tiefer, who is a psychologist specializing in sexual problems. “When you tell someone they are a fast ejaculator, it makes it sound like there is a right time to ejaculate and, if you ejaculate before, it’s a medical problem.”