Her Story Of The Hymen Hysteria (part 2)
By Fareedah Munir
Society emphasizes purity on females. In fact, such expectation has deluded our people that there’s a saying, “iskancin na miji ado ne”. It means promiscuity is an adornment for the man. I can’t express how I find that phrase appalling. So, I won’t go into it… for now.
When I expressed my disgust about the virginity tests in a group of women, one lady proudly proclaimed, “My grandmothers were tested, I was tested, and I will test my daughter.” I asked her why. She answered, “It is a proud thing to be a virgin, and everyone knows that no man has touched me before marriage.” Then I asked her why everyone had to know that. And what about the groom? What if he’s not a virgin? She stuttered then went silent. As if it were the first time she heard those questions.
What is sad about the virginity test is that many women tie their worth to it. They expect to be treated right because they believe they are valuable by their hymen. Talking to a middle aged woman about the divorce she went through more than twenty years ago, she lamented, “I always wonder what I did wrong. I was a virgin when he married me.” It has been two decades and she still thinks about it.
A newly wed lady, mistreated by her husband, cried, “He married me a good girl. Why is he cheating on me with loose women? I’m a clean girl. No man knows my body but him, yet he chooses the dirty ones over me.” I could see severe emotional distress as she complained. She wholeheartedly believed that because she saved her self for him that he would love, respect, and treat her well. (ance na miji, kanin ajali, ko? #joke)
A new bride went into panic mode when she did not see a pool of blood on the sheets, “I thought he would ask me about it. I was so worried. I had to call a friend days later and ask about it.” Another bride had to call a doctor friend of hers and ask, “…because I was so scared. There wasn’t even a drop. I kept wondering what he was thinking.” This makes me wonder how many brides called up friends in hushed tones demanding a logical explanation to a bloodless bed.
Another lady sadly said, during a quarrel with her husband, he said to her, “After all, I didn’t see any blood.” He demanded an explanation years later, which means he’s been hoarding resentment ever since. They are still married, but those words still haunt her. A relative was divorced within a month of marriage and the excuse her ex told everyone (but her) was, “she wasn’t a virgin”. He of course went on to marry several more wives for short periods. He was one of those serial polygamists, and he used the oldest trick in the book to get rid of a wife, “slander”.
HYMENECTOMY IN NORTHERN NIGERIA
Concerning female genital cutting, hymenectomy is the popular procedure in Arewa. It is performed on newborn girls and married women who “refuse sex with their husbands”. In the process of the primitive practice, females are scarred, infected, and mutilated. Three nonsensical reasons for using a blade to cleave out the hymen and other parts; first is that a spirit (iska) or jinn enters the hymen tissue and obstructs penetration; second is the belief that the hymen grows and blocks the vagina; third is that it makes a woman promiscuous. According to science and common sense, these assumptions are preposterous. Complete bloody fallacies.
Cire angurya or cire belun gaba is done when the baby girl is seven days old. At this time, hormones make the genitalia swell, and wanzamai just peep and cleave what they feel like cleaving. I can’t be too sure because every wanzami I interviewed had different explanations. After a few days the swelling goes down, and again, hormones during puberty make the hymen stretch or even wear out on its own. A baby girl does not need to be cut.
There are cases of hymens that spread across the vaginal opening. It is called an imperforate hymen. With this type of hymen, medical intervention is needed because menstrual blood does not flow out and using tampons would be impossible. Wanzamai will always give you an example of a married woman they “cured” by removing her stubborn hymen. It is done with no anesthesia, improper tools, and unspecified herbs are used post-removal. Sometimes it is done against the woman’s wish, since they are forced down by three or four men during the procedure.
Our women should be aware that an imperforate hymen can be treated by a simple medical procedure, AT A HOSPITAL under supervised surgery with sterilized tools, in a sanitary environment, and by professionals. Another type of hymen that needs medical intervention is the microperforate hymen, which has many little holes that may allow some menstrual blood to flow out. A septate hymen has one or two band-like tissue across the vaginal opening, and it may also require a hospital visit.
Women have to know their bodies. We have to understand how our bodies work. If intercourse is painful or penetration is difficult, DO NOT see a wanzami. See a gynecologist (preferably a female). Any problems with menstruation flow or inserting a tampon, see a reputable gynecologist. As a newly wed, don’t force it. If it hurts, see a doctor. Most importantly, DO NOT let a wanzami examine your newborn and certainly do NOT let him cut her. They lack knowledge on the female genitalia, but YOU do! It is on your body. It is yours. So do more research and know thyself better.
EDUCATE & COMMUNICATE
There is no need to obsess over a woman’s nether region. The hymen is but a layer of tissue. Its presence or absence has no significant value. Constant checks or cuttings are lazy ways of parenting. Nasiha is key. Educate BOTH boys and girls about their bodies and choices to make growing up. Have discussions about what they know so far and what they should know?
In general, talk about unreasonable social expectations with your family and friends. Chat with your colleagues and employees. Share facts and inform your mallams about female genital cutting. Lecture your domestic staff. Hold conversations with teachers. Talk to people who cannot read this article. Share as much information as possible to keep the conversation going. No matter the reason (disguised as good intention), the obsession with the hymen does more harm. Hopefully, through awareness we can put a stop to harmful humiliating customs.
Ps. I still wonder, if the hymen is cut out in a newborn, what is expected to tear and bleed as an adult female?