In my quest to find out more about Female Genital Mutilation in my country Cameroon, I crossed paths with this amazing lady who has made it part of her life’s work. Her approach looks at the practice beyond statistics and she does it the BodyTalk way; using stories to effect change.
I got her to talk about her play ‘Nkuma’ on FGM and her experiences.
Hello Dr Patricia!
Can you tell us a bit about the story in ‘Nkuma‘?
‘Nkuma’ is the story of a young girl, Bessem, who gets married as a virgin but is not able to conceive and is under a lot of pressure and threats from her in-laws to give them a child or lose her husband to another woman they have found. A visit to the gynaecologist reveals that her barrenness is not unconnected to her having had her genitals mutilated as a child. She then decides to contact some educated elite from her area, together with whom she embarks on an awareness-raising campaign mission to her community, especially the womenfolk, on the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and its far-reaching consequences on young girls. They are greeted with stiff resistance. The women, particularly the die-hard traditionalists, see the anti-FGM campaign as a calculated attempt to destroy their tradition. After a lot of educative talks and a proposed alternative to genital ‘cutting’, the traditionalists surrender their weapons of circumcision to embrace the new approach to mark the coming of age of young girls. Suspecting that the women’s resistance could be due to the economic benefits derived from the fees paid for the ritual, the elite women gave the village women a grinding mill alongside other gifts. The idea is for them to start a corporative business for a sustainable source of income.
So what parts of the play are fact and which fiction? Including the setting and characters.
The entire play is fiction. Nkuma is set in an imaginary village called Yoba in the imaginary Mayole District. The story is just a reflection of what goes on in areas where FGM is practiced. Any similarity in name is just a coincidence.
The play was an interesting read. I will like to know though, how did you become involved with FGM?
I am a writer and an educationist. Among the many things I am interested in is gender and women’s issues. FGM is just one of those issues that deprive women of their femininity. Those who practice it say it is customary and is a rite-of-passage ceremony that marks the transition of the female child from girlhood to womanhood. Good! I respect tradition! I am however of the opinion that if tradition must be maintained, it should not harm, traumatize or better still, violate anyone’s fundamental rights.
I think it is fair at this point to mention that I was commissioned in 2007 by the Africaphonie Director, Mwalimu George Ngwane, to write a telefilm script on FGM. The success and feedback generated by the film is what motivated me to adapt the script for the stage, first and foremost, to use it as an education tool and secondly, to preserve it for posterity.
Can you please contextualise a bit for our readers? What it is, how it affects girls in Cameroon and what forms are practiced here.
Female Genital Mutilation, also known as female circumcision, is any procedure that involves the partial or complete removal of the most sensitive part of the female genital organ. It is done for non-medical reasons like marking the coming of age of young girls as well as killing their sexual appetite so that they can ‘remain faithful’ in marriage.
In Cameroon, the campaign against FGM is ongoing. It used to be practised mostly in the Logone and Chari Divisions in the North and Manyu Division in the South West. The practice has almost been eradicated in Manyu. Almost because a few people contacted say although they don’t have proof they know that it is still practiced by diehard traditionalists of a particular clan. What is certain is that the practice was still done in the open about six to seven years ago. Mothers still took their daughters to traditional birth attendants to circumcise but this time, using sterilized equipment. It is certain that the practice is still going on in the North though not as prevalent as before.
Girls/women who have been circumcised usually feel bad and/or inferior when it and other related subjects are mentioned in circles outside that of circumcised women.
I cannot really say what type of FGM is practised in Cameroon as the victims themselves don’t know.
A people’s culture is their identity so all attempts should be made for the people to not feel inferior or humiliated.Dr Pat
Based on the story of ‘Nkuma’, what you do think is the best way to fight FGM, given its deep rooted social and cultural ties.
To me, the best way to fight FGM is through social and behaviour change communication and education for awareness-raising. A people’s culture is their identity so all attempts should be made for the people to not feel inferior or humiliated. That is why my approach in Nkuma is conciliatory not condemnatory per se. Again, because it is not easy to let go what one has held on to for generations, I think alternative measures to mark the coming of age of young girls should be proposed to replace FGM. That is my stance.
Pat T. Nkweteyim holds a PhD in Theatre and Media Studies from University of Calabar, Nigeria, an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Buea. Her works have appeared in academic journals, book chapters, poetry anthologies and on both the stage and screen. Nkuma is her first published play.
Her areas of interest and research are Theatre for Development, Sustainable Development, Culture and Environment, Gender and Women’s Issues, Children and Youth Issues, as well as New Media. She desires to contribute to knowledge and nation building through collaborative and interdisciplinary studies, research and publications, as well as training the young to grow up to become responsible citizens.
Presently, Dr Pat works at the Inspectorate of Computer Science at the Southwest Regional Delegation of Secondary Education (Buea) and at the Department of Performing and Visual Arts, University of Buea.