Javanese girls have a taste for it
Whoever is born as a girl in an Indonesian village in the middle of Java soon learns to limit her vision of the future to the altar. But the sweet victory that the girls tasted when they beat the boys in a start-up competition this year with their tropical ice creams, tastes like more ...
The village in north-eastern Java has its siesta. The damp blanket of tropical heat temporarily paralyses the approximately 3,000 villagers. Here and there someone is still shuffling down the street in sarong and slippers.
A female cat stretches lazily in the shade of a jackfruit tree. There is clatter and laughter from the pink-with-blue-painted, temple-like house at the crossroads at the heart of the village. Inside are Siti 1, Siti 2, Choimatul, Nihayatul, Tak and Khoirudding on the floor, stirring a white, sweet-smelling mixture.
A year ago, these girls hoped to be married before the age of twenty. If you are not married by then, you are considered an old maid in this village. Now they are discussing opportunities of their successful business in tropical fruit ice creams. Marriage? On closer inspection, that can still wait a while.
Talking about sexuality
'The social values and norms in the village where I grew up were very strict.'
Amlakale Muchia, 16 years old, is a grade 7 student in Wondata primary school. He explains how the Yes I Do programme is informing him on his sexual and reproductive health and rights.
‘Young people weren’t free to talk about sexuality. It was even considered a taboo to talk about menstruation, sexual intercourse, about contraceptive methods etc.
Most of us were afraid of being judged by others and didn’t want anyone to point to us saying ‘look at them: they have the wrong priorities for their age! Their parents may think they are studying well, but instead they are talking about sexuality.’
At first Amlakale found it difficult to have discussions with his parents. The turning point came when his parents attended the exhibition he made as part of the Meharebe club, an in-school Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme.
“My friends and I have presented what we were talking about in the Meharebe club. I could tell from the expression on their face how impressed they were. Puberty, body change, friendship, sexual intercourse, risks of unsafe sex etc are issues they undoubtedly want us to be aware of. However, they find it difficult to talk about it to us. I felt that what holding them back were the strict norms.’
I had no idea what female circumcision involved
Osupat (58) thought that female circumcision was just part of their culture and mainly a women’s thing. But when, during a training session of the Yes I Do Alliance, he got to see the far-reaching consequences of circumcision, he was appalled. He decided there and then that his two youngest daughters would never have to undergo this harmful tradition.
“My eldest daughter has been circumcised because it was just part of our culture, as well as a non-negotiable condition of marriage,” says Osupat, who quickly adds that he had no idea at the time what circumcision really involved. “The women never told us what they actually did during the circumcision ceremony. In Masai culture, circumcision is a woman’s thing.”
“In Masai culture, circumcision is a woman’s thing”
Typically, a girl’s circumcision would be completely arranged by the mother. The father would be informed beforehand that it was going to be done, but would be told nothing about the actual process, explains Osupat. He was absolutely appalled when he first saw videos of female circumcision during training sessions organised by the Yes I Do Alliance (YIDA). In the context of this Alliance, Plan International Netherlands, Rutgers, Amref Flying Doctors, CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality and KIT Royal Tropical Institute are collaborating to combat female circumcision, child marriages and teenage pregnancies.
“I was so shocked when I saw on the video what circumcision actually entails and the huge negative repercussions it has on our girls. More so because I immediately realised that my eldest daughter had already been circumcised.”
Lonesi’s Tale of Teenage Pregnancy
Lonesi Juma (18) is the last born in a family of 5 and she is a favorite girl in the family.
In 2015, she attends kachere Day Secondary School when things change as she becomes pregnant by her boyfriend, Jacobo (17). At that time she is only 15 years old. Lonesi was reluctant to tell her parents about her pregnancy, fearing the anger of her father.
‘It took me 7 days to find the courage to confront my mother about the Issue. I was so scared at the time, but Jacobo kept insisting that I shouldn’t worry. He promised to marry me and .take care of me and the baby since he was from a well to do family.’
Her mother told her father of the pregnancy. Both the parents were infuriated with news. For them it was clear that Lonesi should marry her boyfriend, even though both Lonesi and her boyfriend were young schoolkids.
‘My parents sent me away from their house. They wanted me to go and stay with Jacobo. Fortunately my uncle intervened. He advised my parents against the decision, citing the dangers of child marriage, and institute another punishment.’
Instead of being sent off to marry her boyfriend, Lonesi was forced to live with her grandmother, ultimately dropping out of school in the process.
Naomi said 'No' to circumcission
She’d known from a young age that she didn’t want to be circumcised, but Naomi (16), who is from Kenya, received little support from her family and friends. Yet despite all that, she’s committed to telling other girls why this tradition is dangerous. And thanks to the training she received from the Yes I Do Alliance, her self-confidence is quickly increasing.
“ I learned about the dangers of female circumcision at a very young age,” says Naomi, who has two younger brothers and two younger sisters and is currently in high school. A teacher at her primary school told her and her fellow pupils about the dangers of this Masai tradition and offered to help girls flee if their parents tried to force them to be circumcised. “My parents wanted me to be circumcised; my father even went so far as to say he would force me to have it done. Luckily for me, my mother respected my wishes not to be circumcised, and my father eventually relented.”
Naomi actually helped two of her friends to flee when their parents were going to force them to be circumcised. For the past two years, by means of education and information dissemination, the Yes I Do Alliance (YIDA) has been working in Kenya to combat female circumcision, child marriages and teenage pregnancies. “My parents’ generation have enjoyed little or no education, which makes it very difficult to convince them of the need to stop female circumcision,” explains Naomi. “They just don’t understand that female circumcision is bad and can even be very dangerous. They just want to keep the tradition going.”