According to the BBC, a Malawian woman is campaigning to end a tradition where men are paid to have sex with girls as young as 10 years old, as part of a Malawian sexual initiation ritual.
The men known as “hyenas” are paid by the village elders to have sex with the girls shortly after their first menstruation.
In July, the BBC reported on the story of Eric Aniva a so-called pre-eminent hyena in his village.
“Some girls are just 12 or 13 years old, but I prefer them older. All these girls find pleasure in having me as their hyena. They actually are proud and tell other people that this man is a real man, he knows how to please a woman, ” said Aniva.
The initiation is supposed to symbolise the girls’ transition from childhood to womanhood.
Its also said to provide sexual “cleansing” and if the girl refuses it’s believed that some disease or fatal misfortune will follow her family.
I was so shocked and disturbed to learn about this practice. After all, I am a woman myself and my younger sister is just fifteen years old. I can’t even imagine this happening to her.
Also, I remember the pain, confusion and even embarrassment of getting my period – not a happy memory.
Natasha Annie Tonthola tells the BBC she was only 13 years old when she went through this ritual.
We were told that we were going to learn about womanhood, and to be honest I was excited. So was every other girl.”
“On the last day one of the female elders told us that we had reached the final part of the process. She said a hyena was coming to visit us. “Don’t worry, I’m not talking about an animal,” she said. “I’m talking about a man.”
“But we didn’t actually know what a hyena is, or what he was going to do. They don’t tell you he’s going to have sex with you.”
“We each had a piece of cloth and we were told to put it on the floor. We were told that it was time to show that we knew how to treat a man, that we knew what to do for our future husbands. Then we were blindfolded.”
“You’re not supposed to show you’re scared, you’re not supposed to show you don’t know what’s happening to you.”
“The man comes, and he tells you to lie down, you open your legs and he does what he does. We weren’t allowed to know who the man was – only the elders know.”
“We were young girls, so we were tense, and this man would push our legs open. I found it painful. When he finished, I was relieved. The female elder came in and said, “Congratulations, you have finished the initiation ceremony, and you are a woman now.”
“Many girls think this is normal because we are in a way brainwashed, we think it is OK because it is tradition.”
“But the hyena didn’t use protection and some of the girls got pregnant.
Years later, Tonthola started a community based organisation to keep girls in school by fighting against early marriage and teenage pregnancy, and educating people about HIV/AIDS, sexual reproductive health and rituals and traditions like the “hyenas” which puts girls at risk.
Some communities have listened and stopped the practice of “hyenas”. But naturally, there has been opposition.
“In some communities they told us: “Just because you are educated, doesn’t mean that you should tell us what to do. These traditions and customs have existed for time immemorial, and we’ve practised them for ages without any harm,” says Tonthola.
The Jamaican reality
I don’t know about any institutionalized sexual initiation ritual in Jamaica that could be compared to the Malawians’ BUT there does exist an upsetting mindset that is undeniably similar.
Although this is a sickening reality, not often spoken about, we know of a culture that preys on young girls. This is quietly perpetrated by older men – whether they are strangers, family friends or even relatives.
Nothing will change unless communities shout a unified and decided “No!” to this culture.
The conversation about sex cannot be the responsibility of just the school. Its everyone’s business.
Then, our girls will be able to differentiate between sex as a rite vs. sex as a right.
You can read the original stories here: