A Voice For the Voiceless

MISSION

The Advocacy Project (AP) recruits students to help marginalized communities tell their story and claim their rights.

My RSS Feed

Twitter: #apfellows

Nurses behind the knife

Charlotte Bourdillon | PostedJune 16th, 2011 | Africa

Tags: , , ,

The more people I talk to, the more complex is the tale about how the culture of FGM pervades and persists in the Transmara area of Kenya. One facet of this story that intrigues and disgusts is the fact that some health professionals, and specifically nurses, are now going underground to perform these illegal procedures.

This week I went to Elinore,* a high ranking nurse at the district hospital, to try to unearth information about the health concerns related to FGM in this district, and to ask her about the role of health professionals in the battle against FGM.

Elinore has spent 20 years in the nursing profession, working at two separate institutions in Kilgoris. With a mother who was a nurse and a father who was a public health officer, it was a natural choice for her. Because her parents were progressive and educated, she herself was not expected to undergo the cut, but as a Maasai from a village near Kilgoris called Oloiborsoito, she has still seen the range of Maasai girls’ experiences with pregnancy, circumcision, early marriage, and birth complications. Her 20 years in the health profession span a time period during which it would seem that FGM has been shed as a cultural practice more rapidly than ever, yet simultaneously shoved underground due to the fact that it became illegal in 2003.

Elinore explains nurses who inflict FGM
Elinore explains nurses who inflict FGM

So, what does she think is the role of the health professional in preventing and reducing the impact of this negative cultural practice?

Elinore says that often she and the other nurses try to dispel the myths about sexuality and the benefits of FGM. “Sometimes,” she says, “when you work in health, you have to take an extra step.” Many parents, and “especially men” still believe that the clitoris, because it is a sexual organ, is what makes a girl “loose.” Because it is a woman’s sexual organ, it is somehow inherently dirty. When a young girl comes into the care of Elinore and her colleagues, they often try to bring up FGM in conversation. Especially when a girl proclaims her desire to be cut, they take the liberty of dispelling such myths, and informing girls about the health risks involved. This is a choice that the nurses make on their own – there is no sort of government program or directive to its health employees to take this measure, and some people might even think of it as invasive on the part of a health care professional.

When asked if this is something her employer, the government, or the hospital promotes, she says no. But because health professionals have more knowledge, she says, sometimes you have to go beyond your normal responsibilities. What is the role of the health professional? To offer safe cuts? To keep quiet? No, says Elinore. The role is simply to tell as many people as possible about “the disadvantages of FGM.”

Yet like I said, one of the most disturbing things about the changing landscape of female genital cutting here in the Transmara is that health professionals are increasingly implicated in the cut’s persistence.

This is partly a sinister byproduct of health campaigns that have sensitized people to the risks of HIV and other infectious diseases, so “people feared the traditional way with HIV.” These are legitimate concerns, as people used to use one knife for a whole cohort of girls. They wouldn’t use gloves, and if they were to have a pair, the wouldn’t change them between girls. Several people have the vague idea that FGM poses some kind of health risk, and thus they have the instinct to seek out someone who can ostensibly perform a safer version of the cut. I spoke to a mother yesterday, however, who despite going on about the importance of now having a “doctor” perform the cut, couldn’t pinpoint any specific health issue about which she is concerned. But it is this fear that makes it profitable to be a nurse who is willing to cut off a few extra genitals on the side.

Elinore is a very high ranking nurse, and is deeply conflicted about the prospect of one of her staff participating in this sort of thing. Yet she sighs, smiles and says that she feels lucky she has never heard of one of their staff participating in this sort of thing. One wonders if this is indeed true or if the administration is perhaps not interested in finding out and having to deal with such a problem. She thinks the nurses who do that sort of thing come from Kisii, a city located an hour an a half north of Kilgoris.

The health professionals performing the cut range from subordinate staff to nurses in retirement, and performing the cut can serve as a large source of supplementary income (perhaps earning you an additional 20,000 Kenya shillings ($250.00) or more during the December “cutting season”). Sure, more salary might curb this behavior on the part of employed health professionals, but even that isn’t much of a solution. Firstly, that wouldn’t address the issue of retired nurses. Secondly, there is always someone else around the corner who is willing to do the cut for extra income, and in lieu of a health professional, families who want to cut their daughters will most likely be willing to settle for just about anyone else.

After speaking to Elinore in her office, I stopped by the Medical Superintendant to ask permission to have a peek at the wards, and we headed over to the maternity wards.

During delivery and even in the maternity wards of the best hospital, the cut can obstruct a birth, and inflict even further pain. More on this next time…

Wards at the Kilgoris District Hospital
Wards at the Kilgoris District Hospital

*Elinore specifically requested that I refrain from identifying her by name, because she was concerned about speaking on record as a hospital employee. For this reason I also excluded her face in the photo.

Tags: , , ,

3 Responses to “Nurses behind the knife”

  1. Erica Burdick says:

    Hi Charlotte! You have really helped to identify the complexities of FGM in Kenya, and have shed light on why, despite the fact that it is illegal, the practice still continues. Just curious, but what is the criminal penalty for cutting? Is it harsh enough to deter people from trying to make extra money on the side?

  2. Loreta Quinn says:

    Thanks for that helpful article I will return. Well done. Au revoir

  3. [...] Female genital cutting: a health care professional’s perspective [...]

Leave a Reply

Security Code:

Fellow: Charlotte Bourdillon

The Kakenya Center for Excellence


Tags

Agent for Change Better than a safari Children's Act Child Rights Cleia Noia Computer lab Counselor Caroline East Africa END FGM Female Circumcision FGC FGM gratitude health professionals HP ICT Kakenya's Dream Kakenya Centre for Excellence Kenya MEPERI Moran Nairobi Naserian Girls Rescue Initiative Nkararo Paul Ole Sire Pusanki Rescued girls Rwanda Simon K. Masake Travel video Wild Animals Women's trainings World Vision


Subscribe


 


Newswire

2013 Fellows

Africa

Benan Grams
Meron Menwyelet
Mohammed Alshubrumi
John Steies

Asia

Andra Bosneag
Chris Pinderhughes
Emily MacDonald
Jasveen Bindra
Kelly Howell
Raymond Aycock
Sujita Basnet

Middle East

Mona Niebuhr

2012 Fellows

Africa

Dane Macri
Laura McAdams
Mallory Minter
Megan Orr
Oluwatooni Akanni
Katie Hoffman

Asia

Adam Kruse
Alex Kelly
Alicia Evangelides
Heather Webb
Jesse Cottrell
Matthew Becker
Rachel Palmer

Europe

Claire Noone
Elise Filo

Latin America

Laura Burns

Middle East

Nur Arafeh
Thayer Hastings

North America

Caroline Risacher


2011 Fellows

Africa

Charlie Walker
Charlotte Bourdillon
Cleia Noia
Dina Buck
Jamyel Jenifer
Kristen Maryn
Rebecca Scherpelz
Scarlett Chidgey
Walter James

Asia

Amanda Lasik
Chantal Uwizera
Chelsea Ament
Clara Kollm
Corey Black
Lauren Katz
Maelanny Purwaningrum
Maria Skouras
Meredith Williams
Ryan McGovern
Samantha Syverson

Europe

Beth Wofford
Julia Dowling
Quinn Van Valer-Campbell
Samantha Hammer
Susan Craig-Greene

Latin America

Amy Bracken
Catherine Binet

Middle East

Nikki Hodgson

North America

Sarah Wang


2010 Fellows

Africa

Abisola Adekoya
Annika Allman
Brooke Blanchard
Christine Carlson
Christy Gillmore
Dara Lipton
Dina Buck
Josanna Lewin
Joya Taft-Dick
Louis Rezac
Ned Meerdink
Sylvie Bisangwa

Asia

Adrienne Henck
Karie Cross
Kerry McBroom
Kate Bollinger
Lauren Katz
Simon Kläntschi
Zarin Hamid

Europe

Laila Zulkaphil
Susan Craig-Greene
Tereza Bottman

Latin America

Karin Orr

North America

Adepeju Solarin
Oscar Alvarado


2009 Fellows

Africa

Adam Welti
Alixa Sharkey
Barbara Dziedzic
Bryan Lupton

Courtney Chance
Elisa Garcia
Helah Robinson
Johanna Paillet
Johanna Wilkie
Kate Cummings
Laura Gordon
Lisa Rogoff
Luna Liu
Ned Meerdink
Walter James


Asia

Abhilash Medhi
Gretchen Murphy
Isha Mehmood
Jacqui Kotyk
Jessica Tirado
Kan Yan
Morgan St. Clair
Ted Mathys

Europe

Alison Sluiter
Christina Hooson
Donna Harati
Fanny Grandchamp
Kelsey Bristow
Simran Sachdev
Susan Craig-Greene
Tiffany Ommundsen

Latin America

Althea Middleton-Detzner
Carolyn Ramsdell
Jessica Varat
Lindsey Crifasi
Rebecca Gerome
Zachary Parker

Middle East

Corrine Schneider
Rachel Brown
Rangineh Azimzadeh

North America

Elizabeth Mandelman
Farzin Farzad

2008 Fellows

Adam Nord
Annelieke van de Wiel
Juliet Hutchings
Kristina Rosinsky
Lucas Wolf
Chi Vu
Danita Topcagic
Heather Gilberds
Jes Therkelsen
Libby Abbott
Mackenzie Berg
Nicole Farkouh
Ola Duru
Paul Colombini
Raka Banerjee
Shubha Bala
Antigona Kukaj
Colby Pacheco
James Dasinger
Janet Rabin
Nicole Slezak
Shweta Dewan
Amy Offner
Ash Kosiewicz
Hannah McKeeth
Heidi McKinnon
Larissa Hotra
Hannah Wright
Krystal Sirman
Rianne Van Doeveren
Willow Heske

2007 Fellows

Johnathan Homer
Adam Nord
Audrey Roberts
Caitlin Burnett
Devin Greenleaf
Jeff Yarborough
Julia Zoo
Madeline England
Maha Khan
Mariko Scavone
Mark Koenig
Nicole Farkouh
Saba Haq
Tassos Coulaloglou
Ted Samuel
Alison Morse
Gail Morgado
Jennifer Hollinger
Katie Wroblewski
Leslie Ibeanusi
Michelle Lanspa
Stephanie Gilbert
Zach Scott
Abby Weil
Jessica Boccardo
Sara Zampierin
Eliza Bates
Erin Wroblewski
Tatsiana Hulko

2006 Interns

Laura Cardinal
Jessical Sewall
Alison Long
Autumn Graham
Donna Laverdiere
Erica Issac
Greg Holyfield
Lori Tomoe Mizuno
Melissa Muscio
Nicole Cordeau
Stacey Spivey
Anya Gorovets
Barbara Bearden
Lynne Engleman
Yvette Barnes
Charles Wright
Sarah Sachs

2005 Interns

Eun Ha Kim
Malia Mason
Anne Finnan
Carrie Hasselback
Karen Adler
Sarosh Syed
Shirin Sahani
Chiara Zerunian
Ewa Sobczynska
MacKenzie Frady
Margaret Swink
Sabri Ben-Achour
Paula
Nitzan Goldberger

2004 Interns

Ginny Barahona
Michael Keller
Sarah Schores
Melinda Willis
Pia Schneider
Stacy Kosko
Carmen Morcos
Christina Fetterhoff
Stacy Kosko
Bushra Mukbil

2003 Interns

Erica Williams
Kate Kuo
Claudia Zambra
Julie Lee
Kimberly Birdsall
Marta Schaaf
Caitlin Williams
Courtney Radsch

Login

Login/Manage