Beyond the Dance. Voices of women on female genital mutilation shines the light on a practice that is common in some parts of Africa, and elsewhere. The book, published in 2009 by Femrite Publications, is a compilation of testimonies, edited by Ugandan feminist authors, Violet Barungi and Hilda Twongyeirwe. It features testimonies from women, who have personally experienced circumcision.
What emerges from the testimonies, are stories of untold pain, shattered dreams, sexual deprivation, and humiliation. For the victims, female circumcision is far from being a time honored and respected tradition. These unfortunate women become different people altogether. For, “when petals of a flower are blown into the wind, the flower is no longer a flower but something else”.
The book’s title is based on one woman’s account of her experience. Despite her parents’ reservations, the woman is lured by the sense of fun and promise of gifts from her relatives, into agreeing to be circumcised. She says:
“There are things I did not know……………when one joins the circumcision candidates, one surrenders her personal free will…………the young girls dance in groups from house to house in villages receiving presents……….as a way of encouraging them. That is how I missed the right moment to leave. With all the excitement, the temptation to stay a little longer was magnetic”.
As she discovers later, what follows beyond the dance was torture that would last a lifetime.
Judith, another victim, reveals how her parents pressured her into getting circumcised.
“During our time, unless a woman was circumcised, she would not get married,” says Judith. “She was treated as a child but without the love that is usually accorded children. She would be subjected to all sort of ridicule, and finally be circumcised by force.”
Circumcision was not something a woman chose to do; it was what she had to do. It was her fate.
Thus, many innocent young women were brainwashed into the ritual, and led to believe that this was the most important milestone in their lives. Gifts, dancing, and a promise of permanent chastity so as to please their future husbands, were some of the tricks used. Ironically most women were abandoned by their husbands in favor of uncircumcised women for sexual gratification. An uncircumcised woman could not milk cows, fetch water from the well, or even go into the granary to get food. And the oath of secrecy at the time of circumcision helped in preserving this practice in all generations.
Beyond the Dance. Voices of women on female genital mutilation is an eye opener but it took me lots of courage to read the book from cover to cover. The pain of the victims was palpable. Thankfully, many governments have set laws to eliminate this practice.
Dianah Ninsiima is an Environmentalist, currently working with a Non Governmental Organization involved in healthcare promotion and community development. She also reviews books (African literature) for Africa Book Club (www.africabookclub.com). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.