28/08/2005: Submitted for publication via web
AIDS And Circumcision
by Rhoda A. Rageh
Somaliland women who are keen to help Somaliland on aids and circumcision face problems when they try to educate the public at home. Women who try to eradicate aids and circumcision become resentful of Somali clerics who make them outsiders in their male dominated society. Recently, a grass roots organization that tracks the spread of aids in Africa reports a few more cases in Somaliland. Also, recently a conference to ban circumcision of young girls in Denmark and protect the rights of Muslim women was held in Copenhagen. Although I refrained from voicing my opinion, I listened with interest to the arguments and dilemma of my fellow women. Somali clerics are as keen to stop the problem of aids and circumcision, I would think, but the struggle they might have with grassroots organizations seems to be in the method. Why and how have aids become a growing problem in Somaliland? Why do clerics reject the good work of women? How focused are women on eliminating the problem? Are Somaliland women bent on the distribution of condoms as the only remedy?
Promiscuity and prostitution are two intertwined root causes that can exacerbate an aids situation. If not controlled, innocent wives and husbands become infected and the gyre widens. Prostitution among young teenage girls has quadrupled in recent years and the cause of it is poverty. Desperate young girls will do anything to eat and cloth themselves. Promiscuity is a chronic problem whose effects can be reduced if its present lifeline – young, hungry, and eager to please girls, are given the help they need. The question here is: how can we help these young girls? We need to dry up the sources by empowering women properly. We also need the full participation of religious men to counsel their own fellow promiscuous men.
Somliland is a predominantly Muslim nation. Therefore any grassroots organization that pursues western methods of educating the public is on a futile mission. Similarly, any Somaliland woman who embarks on a crusade against female circumcision by putting a young ready to be circumcised girls on western television for 20 million western viewers is on a doomed mission. I wonder, how other than reinforcing the image of the “barbaric African”, can one help with this kind of action? Neither the publicity of female circumcision to western viewers, nor a service that focuses on distributing condoms to cities in Somaliland is a solution to the problems we have. Both missions lack wisdom and are soon lost on quicksand. In this article, I am more concerned about the problem of aids than of circumcision. At least with circumcision, one presupposes good, healthy patient. As with Aids, we need to dry up the source and rather than distributing condoms, we need to build condominiums for these young girls. As we all know, there are many orphans lost in the streets of our cities. If the funds given to our grassroots organizations can be channeled to a) build boarding schools for these girls and b) provide them free education, then at least, we eliminate the cause of prostitution and if we succeed in empowering women and giving them the self esteem to earn a decent living, then we have dried up the source. Poverty breeds corruption not only of a system but of the soul. To control the cause of aids, we must eliminate the source.
What these young girls need is a shelter to nurture them. They need real education and guidance to foster their mental ability and when they become educated, they can live a life free from corruption. But as long as they are hungry, information about self-restraint falls on deaf ears. After all hungry stomachs have no ears. Once we reduce hunger, poverty and homelessness of our youth, we educate both men and women on personal and societal responsibilities which can be served through Islamic education and the two can be done in tandem easily.
When women and for that matter men write up projects, they should do so within our cultural context. If instead of rallying the support of men to educate men, we create hostility between us as rivalry groups then piling up more obstacles becomes inevitable and the mission is lost.
Rhoda A. Rageh