The Female Sex: Women and Females (Part 3) – Planet Doc


Children are the key. Here, in the Ivory Coast, as in so many other places around the world, the women are in charge of educating the little ones in their culture from the time they are born. As they go about their daily chores, they teach the children the strictures of the Senufo culture to which they belong. The children also learn from direct observation, and what they see are men sitting around and women working. If it is not changed from the very beginning, you can’t blame this young boy if, in the future, his behaviour is determined by what he has always seen, the memories of his childhood. Just like the whale calf or the bear cubs, human children need lengthy preparation in the company of adults in order to learn to be men or women. Education is the basis of the struggle against discrimination. The women of the third world, condemned to one pregnancy after another, have no opportunity to take decisions on their own lives. Often, the first child comes too early in their lives, and there is then no respite, until the last one is born too late. This affects their health and that of their children. Recent studies have demonstrated the profound relationship between education and family planning. Equality between men and women can only be achieved if women are, in part at least, freed from their biological burden, on the basis of cultural solidarity. But often, to achieve this, they have to fight against very deep-rooted customs and cultures. The most terrible example of this is the ablation of the clitoris, a barbarous mutilation that affects over seventy million women throughout Africa. These young girls in the Ivory Coast have spent a period of isolation in the forest, learning the traditional codes of the women’s secret societies, the precepts of initiation for contact with the spirits and the rules on how to be good wives and mothers After this, they are subjected to ablation of the clitoris, and now dance before the high chiefs who preside over the act, dressed in white to symbolise their direct contact with the protective spirits. They are examining the young women to see if they have adequately learnt the discipline of the secret societies of women. These older women went through the same thing, and now defend the practice of ablation. Many governments and associations are trying to end this custom, which moreover is performed in appalling sanitary conditions, causing haemorrhages, infections, and subsequent problems in giving birth. But for these ethnic groups it is difficult to separate mutilation from all the other associated beliefs and rites they all form part of their spiritual world, and in that, outsiders have absolutely nothing to teach them. Every day, some 6,000 girls in 28 countries of Africa and the Middle East are victims of this practice. No other animal on the planet would be capable of inventing something like this. Among animals close to us in terms of longevity, intelligence and sociability, there are examples of much fairer balances between the two sexes In the case of elephants, intelligent animals that can live up to seventy years, the family unit is composed of adult females and their children of different ages. All the females of a herd are related, and the group is ruled over by a matriarch, who is the oldest female. Females will remain forever with the herd, while the males will have to leave shortly after reaching sexual maturity, to live a solitary life. All, therefore, are daughters, granddaughters, sisters or cousins of the great matriarch. Between the ages of thirteen and fifty, the females can have one calf every four years, and when that happens, the little one is taken care of by all of them, who show true dedication in helping the mother. The baboons, too, have an interesting system. They have a very stable social order, with two parallel hierarchies. Instead of a dominant male, as in the case of other primates, here a group of them rules, so that if one dies there are no problems with succession. The social status of the females depends on their reproductive cycle, so those with young are automatically escorted, protected and pampered by the entire clan. The adults are extremely fond of children, and even the great warriors often play with them. Work is evenly distributed, and each one has his or her function to perform. Having to survive on the ground, away from the protection of the trees, has made the baboons very much aware that the enemy is out there, not within the clan. They clean each other of parasites, a soothing ritual that strengthens bonds and avoids internal tensions between members of the group. No one lives at the cost of another. One the most paradoxical relations between the sexes is to be found in animist religions, which are very widespread in the third world. Women are considered a religious vehicle, in absolute equality with men. In spiritual ceremonies, like this one in Havana, Cuba, both the medium and her leading acolytes are, most often, mainly women. For these animist religions, the spirits transcend gender, and are neither male nor female. All this conflict between the sexes, all this confusion and injustice, stems from a biological reality which in its time functioned, so successfully in fact that it made us the dominant species on the planet. The key lies in our children, the care of whom prevents many women in the third world from being able to choose their own destinies, burdened by one pregnancy after another. Some 200 million women become pregnant every year; half of all births are unplanned, and a quarter unwanted. Family planning translates into happier woman, healthier children and a more just world. Being the custodians of life should not be allowed to become a biological curse. After all, a mother is, first and foremost, a woman.

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