Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Breast ironing and irony

I spoke to this Nigerian girl a while back -Mahparah (not her real name). She is a lively seventeen year old and the first girl in her family to go to school. She laughs like an angel. A laugh that conceals all the pain that her past carries. Every moment of horror and agony that she went through. 

Mahparah misses her sister. She's dead. "Dead!" I exclaim. "How? What happened to her?" Mahparah does not answer. She says I might not understand if she told me. After some reassurance and prodding Mahparah says she was killed by her mother and by the society. By now I am sure it's some evil ritual of the community she lives in. I ask her to tell me more. She shared some pictures with me. Pictures of breasts. Deformed breasts. Breasts that looked like they had froth forming on them. Froth of scalded flesh. Blisters and boils. Her breasts were ironed with a hot grinding stone -the traditional way. 

I took one look at those pictures and I supressed a shriek. Mahparah continued to speak without emotion. Three days after her sister's breasts were ironed, her genitals were mutilated. She died shortly after that due to a horrible haemorrhage. It has been ten years now but Mahparah has not forgotten her sister's screams. And her mother's. She remembers her mother screaming... at her sister... telling her to bite her lip and take it all in. 

Mahparah said to me... you're a feminist... please do something about this. Tell people about this. Nobody even knows what we endure. Nobody knows what this is all about. And even if they do... it's only through all the scientific terms they use in articles and papers. Nobody understands the gravity.

 It's true. People know about many problems women face. Seldom have I come across people actually knowing what breast ironing is. Her words saddened me so much that it felt like somebody just placed a rock on my heart. This is why I want to tell Mahparah's story to the world. I really can't say much because I am not at liberty to reveal where she is from. (((Yes she told me not to eve if I said I changed her name :-| :'( )))

To Mahparah's luck, after her sister died... a qualified doctor had come to visit their community. He warned her parents that she would take Mahparah away to America if they did any of this BS to her. Mahparah and some other girls in her community were saved. But those were only a few. 

You must be wondering why on earth they do this. Because according to them the girls don't get raped by boys and men. Because the name of the family is held high. Because there's no loss of reputaion. And genitals are cut because they are evil and they are unhealthy. Because they will cause a woman to become a monster. Don't all these "religious" people who think that FGM should be done because god said so THINK for one moment? If god didn't want women to have clits, then they wouldn't have them. But they do so why cut it off? Patriarchy -down with you. 

A note to all people saying I'm not a feminist BUT I care for women's rights... You know guys? Feminists are not evil devils who want to turn all men into stone and then destroy them with sledgehammers. We only want equality. There are some bad apples who claim to be feminists but they want female superiority. I think they're idiots. All the real feminists think they're idiots. So if you want equality for women and men then you ARE a feminist. Why the term feminist? Because this has always been about women not getting the same legal or social privileges as men do. Not the other way round. 

Anyway that's not what, Mahparah is a hero to me. To anybody who cares to listen to her story. She is the face of bravery and courage. She stood up to her parents and said she needs to go to school like her brothers. "I'm first in class. I finally beat the boy who sists next to me in math", she said to me with an undeniable sense of pride and innocence. My heat goes out to her and all the other girls in that village who have sad stories to tell but they don't find the time to tell it. They are now shaping the future of their country. 

At the end of it all Mahparah returned to her usual self and with the laughter that captivates all souls, she said to me -"You know Swati, it's good to finally see some girls with breasts!"