Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 20, 2020

The Sun Will Soon Shine, by Sally Sadie Singhateh

The Sun Will Soon Shine is a timely reminder to me that all kinds of issues are slipping under the radar during the pandemic.  Sally Sadie Singateh is a writer from Gambia, but the issue she raises in this novella are widespread.  It’s the story of Nyima, born in a village, but keen to sidestep community expectations about the near universal fate of girls to become a wife and mother, serving a man who most likely has more than one wife.  As part of this predestined journey, a girl is made to endure the practice of female circumcision a.k.a. FGM (Female Genital Mutilation).  But Nyima is an intelligent girl, who wants to become a teacher.

What prompts me to link this story with the pandemic is that (anywhere in the world) lockdown conditions in remote villages, even in the age of the mobile phone, limit exposure to more enlightened ideas.  Nyima’s father envisions a different future for her.  He has travelled outside his village, and has rejected the community’s expectations for his daughter.  He wants Nyima to finish her education, and has encouraged her career ambitions.  He has organised a different kind of initiation for her, in which she learns the cultural knowledge of her people but does not undergo FGM.

But when he dies, Nyima’s mother is too weak to protect her daughter from tradition.  Dependent on her brother-in-law for support, and hidebound by religion, she acquiesces to thirteen year-old Nyima’s marriage to a grotesque old man called Pa Momat because Uncle Modou decrees it. Nyima is devastated:

When I voiced out my thoughts to my mother, she just shook her head sadly and told me to raise my hand and look at my fingers. ‘You see, Nyima,’ she said, ‘even the fingers are not equal.  My dear daughter, it is written in the Holy Book that men shall lead women into eternity.  And so, my child, it will remain.’

Her words did not deter me.  I believe that men should indeed lead women but they should not control them like puppets on strings. Women should be allowed to voice their thoughts, as in my case.  I wanted to tell my uncle that I did not want to marry Pa Momat.  I wanted to complete my education and become a teacher so that I could share my knowledge with others.  I wanted to scream it all out, let loose all of my torments and frustration, but tradition and customs prevented that.  A woman had to accept her destiny and mine was to marry Pa Momat. (P.15)

Worse is to come.  Pa Momat rejects her and demands back the wedding expenses and the dowry (that has gone to Uncle Modou) because she is uncircumcised.  And so she is physically forced to undergo this hideously painful mutilation, to make her acceptable to her angry husband.  And then there is more trouble because she does not get pregnant, to give him the required son.

All this is happening while she is still in her teens, and her powerlessness makes it seem as if there is no hope.  But the title of the book comes from her mother’s saying, that even in the depths of despair, ‘the sun will soon shine.’  And it does, in the form of a cousin who has made a career for herself as a lawyer, and had promised Nyima’s father to support the girl’s quest for education.  The story does have a happy ending, though Nyima has more travails to endure before it comes, and the damage done to her body can never be repaired. More to the point, Jainaba’s role in Nyima’s rescue is as a kind of ‘guardian angel’ or ‘fairy godmother’ who saves just one girl from an implacable destiny—when really, what is needed is structural and cultural change.

The insularity and conservatism of village life makes gender equality difficult at any time, but when the walls are up, people are emboldened to take advantage of a reprieve from the forces of change.  NGOs and health educators cannot visit to bring new ways and to support change.  Gambia’s president banned FGM in 2015 but who will be enforcing it in rural areas, in a country where an estimated 76.3% of girls and women have been subjected to it?

Who knows how many girls’ ambitions for a better life are being permanently damaged at the moment?

This ‘No Time to Lose’ video from UNICEF shows that progress has been made, but that any pause in the campaign would be devastating for the future of women and girls.

 

And in the words of a joint statement by Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director; Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director; and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director:

“Thanks to the collective action of governments, civil society, communities and individuals, female genital mutilation is in decline. But we are not aiming for fewer cases of this practice. We are insisting on zero.”

Books like The Sun Will Soon Shine help to keep the issue alive in countries like Australia where FGM has spread because of immigration.  Despite some initial setbacks with prosecuting facilitators of FGM,  the High Court has recently ruled that it is illegal in all its forms, in all states and territories, but education, vigilance (and the likelihood of gaol for the powerful men who promote it) are the best weapons we have for the protection of women and girls wherever they are.

You can donate to the UNICEF Education for Every Girl campaign here.

Author: Sally Sadie Singateh
Title: The Sun Will Soon Shine
Publisher: Athena Press, London, 2004
ISBN: 9781844011421, pbk., 105 pages
Source: A gift from my friend ‘Sally from Oz’, thanks Sally!

 


Responses

  1. Hi Lisa this one does interest me. I stand to be corrected, as my Anthropology degree was done some time ago now, but we particularly studied FGM and it is generally carried out by older women on young girls/women, the men interviewed by researchers were in fact not particularly interested in it. As women only achieved status in society in countries mentioned in this video when they reached menopause/old age, it appeared to be a power control by older women over younger ones.
    I regret I can’t cite any actual articles at this time, and I’d be interested to read/hear from anyone with more up to date information. It was found at the time I was studying that FGM was largely also connected with ensuring land/cattle were passed on to the child of the father (FGM assisting to ensure the woman didn’t “sleep around”) and the practice decreased when work that didn’t require land ownership became more available.
    I don’t think it’s as simple as pleasing men – our study of it showed the causes were multi-factorial.

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    • It’s almost certainly a very complex situation which varies from place to place. We don’t know much about it here in Australia because it only comes to light when a girl or woman presents with health problems at a hospital or clinic. But the notorious case, where two women and a man were convicted, and he was sentenced to gaol while the women had home detention, suggests strongly that the man’s religious influence and therefore his responsibility was very strong.
      (This is the one where there was an appeal, and then it went to the high court, which confirmed their culpability, and now they’re determining whether there should be a retrial).
      It’s obviously a different scenario in places where the practice has to be clandestine because it’s known to be illegal (as in Australia) compared with places where it’s been done for centuries, especially that broad swathe of countries across Africa where religion and tradition conspire to oppress women in numerous ways, not just this.
      As far as this book is concerned, the author has drawn on her own culture but may have altered causation to make the book more interesting. I don’t think we can draw conclusions from it except to say that whatever the causation, it needs to be stamped out, and the success of what’s been done so far suggests that a decline makes a difference to huge numbers of girls and women and must continue to be addressed,

      Liked by 1 person

      • We were taught when looking at a maladaptive behaviour, to figure out what function it served and to look for a stressor that may be causing it. FGM insures paternity is less likely to be questioned, so that can be one (perhaps the original) function. It’s certainly a maladaptive behaviour by the older women, lack of status until old age is one possible stressor (power when achieved at last is then exerted over younger women, as even older women are still unable to exert much power over men).. It’s not difficult for these practices to become ingrained culturally unfortunately, as you rightly point out (& then adopted by their religion of course).

        Education is a major player here I think Lisa – better education for women in these countries, which are also poor, is by far the best hope in eliminating FGM. Poverty, a subsistence existence, and ignorance naturally perpetuate these behaviours. It’s a situation that wealthier Western nations should not be allowing to continue, yet we continue to cut our foreign aid budget here. Don’t get me started! I’ll have to read this book so thanks for the review! I’d love to hear from anyone who has more to add, or more direct experience of the problem on the ground so to speak.

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        • Would you like me to send it to you? Email me your address at anzlitloversATbigpond.COM and I’ll have it in the mail to you next week:)

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          • Thanks Lisa I’d love to read it! I’ll email you direct.

            I am in no way defending the practice of FGM – but we were taught if we were to do the work anthropologists have to do, we had to put aside our emotions and step back and look as dispassionately as possible at what was happening and why. Of course it’s unpleasant and has terrible health implications for the woman. My job, studying anthropology was to look at the origins and functions of the practice (whatever it was – it may be infanticide which we also had to study) without letting my personal revulsion get in the way.

            The anthropologist in that article is very clear that the practice is not OK, but she is pointing out its function and the possible ways of stopping it, which include not just passing laws against it but also providing greater opportunities for women to secure their future via work and education rather than marriage and childbearing alone.

            I do enjoy a good discussion like this – you can see the damage done by studying (horror!) the dreaded Humanities! (chuckle)

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            • ROTFL o yes, we are so subversive, we who have studied the humanities! I guess we’re an endangered species now…

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  2. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiBvpOgkZDqAhWKfn0KHXSvAwIQFjAEegQIBhAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theatlantic.com%2Finternational%2Farchive%2F2015%2F04%2Ffemale-genital-mutilation-cutting-anthropologist%2F389640%2F&usg=AOvVaw3ae3PwohbnK8841J8AyBfO

    Don’t know if the link works Lisa – apologies if it does not, but you can Google: Why Some Women Choose to Get Circumcised – The Atlantic.

    A very interesting interview with an anthropologist which shows how complex these issues can be.

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  3. I agree with your comment in the comments – this is no culture that I can respect and it’s vile and should be stamped out. As someone who works in a school, it’s something we’re aware of and have to look out for. And it’s a subject, as you say, like so many others which is slipping under the radar while we’re enduring the pandemic. Shocking.

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  4. There is no cultural difference that can justify FGM, like nothing can justify slavery or racism.

    Some things are meant to be universal.

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  5. Actions by countries like Australia to stamp out this practice are very welcome. The problem is that even in those countries the practice is still happening, driven underground as it were.
    Across Africa this barbaric practice is still sadly far too prevalent.

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    • Hi Karen, I’m not sure why your comment went to moderation, you are one of my most trusted commenters!
      Anyway, yes, but it takes an international effort. Rich countries like ours need to support UNICEF and other NGOs to provide education and support, and the UN needs to insist on legislation to back up the process of change. Plus, any countries that receive migrants will probably have underground instances of it, and so there needs to be education there as well. I am encouraged by that UNICEF video which shows the progress that has been made, which means that stamping it out is not impossible.

      Like


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