It Shouldn't Hurt to be a Girl

The birth of a baby is a noble experience for every mother. It is one rapturous feeling that we all look forward to. Yes! A new born baby is often regarded as a bundle of joy; hence the act of cuddling such comes with unexplainable peace and happiness. It does not matter what the sex of the baby is; No, it does not matter if the tiny life is a boy or girl. What matters most is the tranquillity, the peace, the glow and the hope that the arrival of the baby brings.

Unfortunately however, despite the many years of advancement in science and technology, there are still strong indications to believe that the female gender is somewhat doomed to be a part of the human race.

The story of creation that we learnt as little children said God first created the man, then the woman: not for the woman to be subservient but for her to be a suitable helper to the man; and for both of them to fulfil specific roles in the human family. There is also a popular saying that while the man is the head, the woman is the neck; hence one cannot survive or accomplish anything meaningful without the other.

While all these may go down well with many, there are some fundamental inhuman actions, mostly rooted in tradition, which does not only portray the girl-child as subservient but much more as a tool, object and piece of rag, created with no definite sense of purpose or direction other than to be used and dumped by the male folk.

How does one explain the absurd, inhuman, self-centred, depraved, illicit and heinous activities of some men in Malawi, known as ‘hyenas’, who are hired to sexually initiate or cleanse adolescent and pre-adolescent girls (some said to be 12 years old, or even younger).

The news went viral last week with reports of absurd exploitation of teenage girls in Malawi. According to Ed Butler of BBC Radio the practice is a “traditional custom that is endorsed or funded by the communities themselves, even the children’s families.” It is believed that this sexual initiation is a necessary procedure to prepare adolescent girls for marriage. It is also believed that if a girl/woman refuses to go through the ritual, her family will be struck with strange disease or even death. Hence, women and girls, out of fear, subject themselves to this repressive and oppressive act, even when they do not like it.

I could not fathom the essence of this act of insanity as I heard Eric, one of the hyena interviewed by Ed Butler narrate his experience with so much relish “Ï have been involved with this initiation since 1985 and so far, I have had sex with more than 104 women. It is an initiation they must undergo once they attain puberty. In fact, after the night’s ritual, they are expected to compliment me the next morning, just like a married woman does to her husband.” Eric admitted to being HIV positive but explained that tradition does not allow the use of condom or protected sex; thus generously spreading the virus to the girls and all the men they eventually marry.

How does one explain the injustice meted out to these innocent girls, all in the name of tradition? How do we excuse the licensed rape of the innocence, pride, self-worth and womanhood of these girls by the very people (mothers, guardians and community elders) that should protect them? How sad that even the thought of the likelihood of being infected with the deadly HIV/AIDS virus has not been able to deter them from this wanton violation of human rights?

The thought of this monstrous act has continued to send cold shivers down my spine like electric torrents. What a world! It is indeed bizarre to think that in this 21st century when countries have taken decisive steps to abolish child bride practices, child trafficking, female genital mutilation, rape and other forms of abuse; when in my country Nigeria, we are still bemoaning the abduction of over 200 Chibok school girls by Boko Haram insurgents, some communities in Malawi can be so heartless and insensitive to the plight of their women and girls, giving them up as sacrificial lambs to be slaughtered on the altar of a man’s wanton lust and pride.

Butler’s findings reveal that besides the adolescent girls, widows are also made to go through similar rituals at the hands of hyenas as a mark of purification before they can be certified clean. And if the widow gets pregnant in the process, she automatically joins the harem of wives in the hyena’s house.

Interestingly, it is said that regardless of how many wives the hyena already has, he is still at liberty to ravage young girls and women. In fact, he is even paid to sexually initiate them. Such is the bizarre culture that Malawian women and girls have to contend with.

I cannot help but ask- Is it a crime to be a girl? Why is it that the girl-child is at the receiving end of so much injustice and oppression?

·       Talk about rape, she is the most vulnerable

·       Talk about trafficking, she is the most at risk of being used as sex slave

·        Talk about genital mutilation, she is expected to be so circumcised in order to tame her sexual appetite and get her prepared for the man, who is believed to have the exclusive right to utmost sexual pleasure and satisfaction

·       Talk about child marriage, she is more at risk of being sold out and consequently forced into emergency adulthood and motherhood

·        Talk about exploitation, she is often at risk of being taken advantaged of

·        Talk about education, she is easily dropped in preference for the male-child

·        Talk about employment, her male counterpart is preferred because he is believed to be more likely to be available, serviceable and productive

·        Talk about harassment at work, she is more at risk

·       Talk about preparation for marriage, she is expected to learn how to be a good wife, cook, wash, spend with discretion and make the home comfortable for the husband and children

·        In the marriage, she is expected to work her fingers dry to keep the home intact, regardless of whatever her man does

·        Talk about childbirth, she is most at risk of losing her life in the labour room

·       Talk about motherhood, she labours more to care and nurture the children

·       Talk about separation or divorce, she is often blamed and stigmatized for making the marriage fail

·        Talk about widowhood, she is often subjected to dehumanizing rites in the name of mourning her husband (sometimes she is even accused as the witch that killed the man)

·       And talk about inheritance, she is sometimes treated as an outcast that has no right to family inheritance.

The question comes again- Is it a crime to be a girl? Did God make a mistake by creating the female gender? The story of creation states that the woman was created as a solution to the emptiness and the gloominess in the life of man; meaning that she was created to complement the male gender, not to be trampled upon as slave; not to be repressed or oppressed; not to be treated as less-human or a tool; not to be violated and tormented; but to be nourished and cherished as the life giver; the helper, strengthener and inspirer.

Obviously, most of the devilish acts that repress and oppress women are rooted in man-made make-beliefs; borne out of selfish egocentric and callous tendencies, but coated with the garment of tradition and custom so they would be incontrovertible. And because they are passed from generation to generation unchecked, successive generations embrace them as the norm and even attach sanctions for those who transgress or fail to obey.

But the truth is that the law was made for man, not man for the law. Why must we continue to uphold traditions and cultures that enslave us; so much so that we work against our own happiness and comfort; so much so that we distort the future prospects of our children and sustain the cycle of poverty, oppression and destruction?

The challenge confronting the women and girls in Malawi requires that we declare a state of emergency. Much as I believe women should be groomed for marriage, I believe there are better ways of doing it. In Nigeria, we have a similar practice in states like Akwa Ibom and Cross -River (South-East Nigeria) whereby young girls and spinsters preparing for marriage are housed in a preparatory home for some weeks and tutored on the basics of home keeping and successful marriage. But there is no time they are subjected to the kind of odious practices as is being practiced in Malawi.

I believe the time is rife for women across the globe to rise against this injustice and reckless abuse of our sisters in Malawi. It is a crime against womanhood. This is not culture but torture.

It shouldn’t hurt to be a girl! It shouldn’t hurt to be pampered as one! It shouldn’t hurt to be accorded the care and respect that women and girls deserve. It is no crime to be a woman; in fact, it is a privilege and honour because the female-folk hold the key to global peace and progress. The earlier we all realise, admit and promote this, the better for all of us in the human family.


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