by Nyasha Chiuswa | @. (featured image credit- frontpagemag)
Mothers like to tell their daughters about it and men are secretly fascinated by it. Grandmothers passed on the tradition from generation to generation and thus played their significant role in educating their daughters about sexual preferences, pleasure and methods.
I am referring to the traditional method of elongating a woman’s labia minora or “kudhonza matinji” in shona or “ukudonsa amalebe” in Ndebele.
This practice is part of the customs of some communities in Zimbabwe and is aimed at initiating young girls into womanhood.
When I was around eight years of age my mother told me that I had to elongate my labia so that I would become a woman. She was not explicit about the purpose this would serve. She did however tell me that elongating my labia minora would help me keep my husband.
My peers and age mates told me they were elongating theirs and that if I didn’t do the same, I would be left behind. “Uchatorerwa murume nesu tinawo matinji!!!” they would say to me on many occasions.
I never did elongate my labia and I have a man and he has not left me. Even more so, I believe it to be unnecessary and all about personal preference.
In fact, I believe that this a form of genital mutilation and many people across the world share my beliefs. According to the United Nations International Children’s Edcation Fund (UNICEF) almost all African countries have rejected the practice. In 19 of the 29 countries in which Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is most prevalent women said that they wanted it to be made illegal.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is the intentional altering or injury of the female genital organs for non-medical purposes. In the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt and Somalia at least 80% of girls are cut between the ages of 5 to 14 years.
All across Africa several forms of FGM exist.
In Rwanda for example, there is a practice known as clitoridectomy which involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris. In other countries (such as Zambia, Kenya and Zimbabwe) infibulation is practiced. This is a more extreme form of genital mutilation involving the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner and outer labia.
There are many short term benefits to elongating a woman’s labia if she is willing, hygienic and fully informed about the risks. Women are able to take control of their sexuality as elongated labia increase sexual arousal and chances of reaching orgasm.
However, I also believe that it is a form of genital mutilation because it changes and alters the shape of the vagina and can cause health problems in the long-term. Some of these problems include yeast infections, bladder and urinary infections, childbirth complications, and other infections.
Besides that though genital mutilation is a cultural practice still esteemed by many societies, it is undeniably a form of gender based violence. Many women who are victims of FGM are forced into it by their relatives and society and this violates their rights to freedom from violence and freedom to life as the procedure sometimes results in death. Besides that some of the genital mutilation rites are conducted in public places with men watching and this violates rights to privacy.
It is a violation of reproductive rights because it is the yardstick through which ultimate womanhood and sexuality is measured.
It is a form of psychological violence as women who have not pulled their labia are labeled sexually uneducated by their peers and by the men in their lives. In some instances this abuse is so severe that a man will divorce his wife for not having pulled labia and his relatives will verbally abuse the woman who does not have them.
More so as it is practiced, it violates the rights of children. Article 2 of the Convention on the rights of the child says children should be protected from all forms of mental and physical violence and maltreatment. In most instances, FGM violates all those rights and because it is done without the child’s consent it is a form of physical abuse.
Labia are not what keep a man but it is love and character. It would be unjustified to say that the labia of a woman control a man. Men are also decisive and will stay with a woman that they love with or without elongated labia minora.
I would not encourage my sisters, my friends or any other woman to elongate their labia minora. It’s simply unnecessary and is only a representation of a system that ignores the various sexual, physical and emotional rights of women and thus should be made illegal.