The right to bodily autonomy

February 6, 2020

February 6 was set aside by the United Nations to create awareness on one of the sternest violations of the rights of girls and women, where communities seek to control their sexuality. The International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was created to increase efforts to eradicate female genital mutilation.

To commemorate this day Hivos East Africa through its Voice Program touched base with Reverend Dr. Timothy Njoya who has been on the forefront of advocating for the end of FGM and has written a book titled Selfhood: The Divinity of the Clitoris a book on bodily integrity and the right to selfhood (the state of having individual identity) for women. The book focuses on the effects of FGM and why this barbaric practice is ‘ungodly’ from his religious perspective.

Reverend Dr Njoya who holds a  PhD from Princeton University, USA and Doctor of Divinity from Toronto University, Canada is a retired senior Presbyterian cleric, human rights defender and Executive Director of Men for the Equality of Men and Women (MEW).

Rev. Dr Timothy Njoya during the interview.

SN: Tell us about the book “Selfhood: Divinity of the Clitoris”?

TN: The book is inspired by mother Wandia who refused to be circumcised and started a movement of rescuing girls and women who were been forced to be circumcised by Kikuyu elders. Wandia believed in her selfhood as the essence of being human, free and sovereign. Her selfhood was the source of truth and dignity and she didn’t let her culture block her path towards realizing herself. Instead of becoming a victim of FGM, she risked her life to keep her clitoris where God fixed it as a symbol of the human likeness with God.

The book is also a collection of poetry that demonstrates and explains why a woman should not be denied part of her.

SN: What does the book mean for the International day on zero-tolerance against FGM?

TN: Firstly, the significance of the book is to remind men and women that women are human too and they should not be dehumanized and secondly is targeted to men to stop defining women as mere objects.

Lastly, women should be allowed to reclaim their selfhood and humanity. Women should not be circumcised as this not only makes them lose their dignity but also causes them to have complications during childbirth, and anaemia among a host of other complications that FGM brings.

SN: What is your stance on bodily integrity particularly for women and the fact that women’s reproductive health choices are still generally controlled by men?

TN: FGM tells women that they don’t own their bodies, and this is dangerous as it violates the human rights of women and girls in general.

Bodily integrity is the manifestation of your selfhood and all women should be allowed to become who they are as women, with all their body organs, to make informed decisions about their bodies and lives.

SN: When can we expect the book?

TN: The book is at the publishers and will be out anytime soon.

SN: What is your message to communities and parents who still hold on to this inhumane practice?

TN: I am asking men to join and restore the bodily integrity of women and renounce their culture of holding women as property which is what FGM is about. Men should intentionally affirm the integrity and dignity of women in their communities.

Hivos believes that women’s empowerment ensures that women and girls have control over their lives and are able to participate actively in social, political and economic domains. It is about realizing true equality for men and women.

About Voice

Jointly executed by Hivos and Oxfam Novib, Voice is a grant facility by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Netherlands that offers grants for grass-root groups and organizations that have difficulty getting funding and that represent or support: people living with disability; LGBTI+ people; women facing exploitation, abuse and/or violence; age discriminated groups like the young and elderly; indigenous groups, and ethnic minorities.