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Natasha Annie Tonthola’s Fight Against “Hyenas” – Men Who “Sexually Cleanse” 10 Year Old Girls into Womanhood in Malawi

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Natasha Annie Tonthola Hyenas_Malawi

Photo Credit: Eldson Chagara via BBC

Earlier this year BBC shed light on a traditional ceremony in parts of Malawi, where pre-pubescent girls as young as 10 years old are ushered into ‘womanhood’ by a man (called a hyena) who forcefully penetrates them while blindfolded.

Click here to watch an interview with one of these men, Eric, who has had sex with 104 females – he is also HIV positive, but the custom forbids them from using condoms during this act. Police arrested him soon after the story broke – click here.

Many of the girls end up pregnant, or with diseases, as the men do so without protection. The men’s identities are also guarded by the women who allow the ceremonies, and the girls are not allowed to tell younger girls what’s in store for them.

Natasha Annie Tonthola went through the practice herself, and now speaks out about it to her local communities.

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.

The female elder came in and said, ‘Congratulations, you have finished the initiation ceremony, and you are a woman now’

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.

When we got back home, we weren’t allowed to chat or play with girls who hadn’t already been through the ceremony. I wasn’t allowed to tell my younger sister anything about it. Girls are entering puberty earlier, and getting their periods at a younger age, so now the ceremony is happening to girls as young as 10 or 11 years old.

She later went on to have a hard life, as her father died, and her family moved to South Africa to avoid her mother being ‘inherited’ by his brother. In SA, she had to work menial jobs to help make ends meet.

She ended up going back to Malawi to marry a man 15 years her senior, who used to hit her and nearly killed her after she left him.

One day he came to the house that I was living in. I don’t know how he got my address, but he seemed calm, so I let him inside. He said he wanted to see me, and that he also wanted to see his daughter, who was at that time three years old. He told me he loved me, that he was sorry and that he was a changed man.

“We’re still married, and I’ve done so much for you,” he said. “If it wasn’t for me paying your fees and taking you and your miserable family in, you wouldn’t have become what you are today. You owe me.”

I told him: “Once bitten, twice shy.”

I certainly didn’t want to get back together with him. He shouted and threw things and then he started choking me – even though my daughter was sitting on my lap. He would have killed me if the neighbours hadn’t heard my screams. They burst in and threw him out. I didn’t press criminal charges, I didn’t want to make my case more public than it already was. But I did get a restraining order to keep him away from me.

Now she dedicates her life to work and service with her foundation – Mama Africa Foundation Trust which fights against wife inheritance, sexual cleansing and gives young girls access to sanitary towels.

My community organisation continued to educate people but it was hard, particularly when we were challenging traditions such as the use of hyenas and wife inheritance.

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.”

But some elders and religious leaders listened, and some have stopped the practice in their villages.

In my community work I soon learned more about the barriers for girls in school. If families are going through a financial rough patch, they’re more likely to pay fees for boys rather than for girls. If girls drop out of school, the family is eager to marry them off rather than have them sit around the house all day. And many girls miss class because they can’t afford sanitary towels.

To try to solve this problem, one of the main things my organisation is doing is distributing eco-friendly reusable washable sanitary pads and pants. They come as part of a kit including pants with clips so that they stay in place and a waterproof bag, in case girls need to change them in school. They are biodegradable, but cost effective and durable – they last for five years. I’ve also expanded into nappies. I hope these will encourage much less waste to go into landfill.

In 2011 I realised I needed to establish a formal organisation, and that was the start of Mama Africa Foundation Trust. We have distributed so many sanitary towels that I have lost count. I call this initiative Project Dignity.

Despite everything that’s happened I’m optimistic about the future. I think there is so much we can do for the women and children who are victims of hyenas, of gender-based violence, and all the other social evils and challenges that are out there. It will be tough, but I have hope.

Source: BBC Magazine

22 Comments

  1. Natu

    October 25, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    African men have been disgusting since the beginning of time!!! How can you penetrate a 10 year old girl? Mothers, please protect your girls from these beasts!!

    • A Real Nigerian

      October 25, 2016 at 7:44 pm

      Oh sister, testify!

    • Natu

      October 25, 2016 at 8:13 pm

      I beg you we are not the same!!! Don’t affiliate me. You are on your own!!!

    • bruno

      October 25, 2016 at 9:31 pm

      hahahahahahahahahahahhah. my stomach is about to burst from laughter.

    • A Real Nigerian

      October 25, 2016 at 10:16 pm

      🙁

    • ATL's finest

      October 26, 2016 at 1:58 am

      @ Nature ?????????????lmao.. Girl came to life today & as for real Nigerian, yes U are on your own. Natu’s view via her comment is completely different from your messed up head/comment.

  2. cheek

    October 25, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    i have skills of a murderer………

    • lol cheek

      October 25, 2016 at 7:06 pm

      asin kill anybody who comes near my daughter

  3. Xoxo

    October 25, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    Natasha I’m saying this prayer for you with my whole heart. May God truly bless you and reward you both on earth and in heaven. Amen. Society needs women like you.

  4. A Real Nigerian

    October 25, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    Look at African Men. Just look at them. Why are ALL BLACK AFRICAN MEN so disgusting??

  5. observe much

    October 25, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    Thank God for this awakening of African women, God bless you Natasha.
    @A real Nigerian, my father and brother are black African men and they are nothing near disgusting.
    I was sexually abused repeatedly before the age of 7, my abuser was a black African woman, yes a black African woman.

    • bruno

      October 25, 2016 at 9:29 pm

      u were molested by a woman when u were underage but society and feminists will say u enjoyed it. u were lucky.
      I’m glad u dont think u were lucky. most men who were molested by women when they were underage don’t even know they were molested. some of them brag about it. when I was 14 I had sex with a 20 something year old woman. and the dude’s friends will be hailing him, na man u be, big boy. so ignorant. most of them men grow up to have issues.

      someone like chris brown is a good example. Chris Brown came out bragging, saying when he was underage had sex with an older woman. chris brown is an ignorant black man. he was molested but he doesnt know it. thats why he has so much rage and anger in him.

      many of u men when u were underaged u had sex with an older woman. pls u were molested. u were not lucky, the woman took advantage of u.

      when are we going to start talking about boys getting molested by women. society has made it okay for women to molest little boys.

    • Cindy

      October 26, 2016 at 9:53 am

      Shut up your ignorant trap. You obviously know nothing about feminism. I’ve not heard anywhere where someone who claims to be a feminist ever disregarded a victim of rape just because he’s a man. I know you’re eager to hate but please stop the fallacy.

  6. Brenda

    October 25, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    Right from her days at the Big Brother House, I have always known Natasha to be a woman ready to fight a good course. I am so happy you didn’t disappoint me!!!

  7. Nadi

    October 25, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    I feel so sad reading this, Lord help us

  8. chique

    October 25, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    I have for 3 girls age 7-12… I’m so sorry for all the girls that had to go through these in Malawi. i can’t imagine my kids going through any thing close… as in anything close let alone this…..

  9. Engoz

    October 25, 2016 at 8:57 pm

    Tradition and Religion…two tools used to destroy womanhood since time immemorial. As a woman, never ever leave your brain at home when these two tools are being used to defend an argument. Guide your head, guide your mind, guide your heart, guide your souls, guide your sanity like your life depends on it. Don’t ever leave your sense at home even when you go to church, school, social gatherings etc. Soon our daughters will be free from these evil man-made mechanisms. They will not follow any culture or religion like sheep to the slaughterhouse. They will learn to question things and make their own judgments. This is why I go all out, gun blazing when people try to trivialize gender issues. Whether pastor or president, senator or olori, your logic will be questioned and analyzed.

  10. ACDCNg

    October 25, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    BLOODY AFRICANS and barbaric stupid STUPID RITUALS!!!!!!!

    Even more horrifying than a woman would nurse a child and then hand over the `child to be raped…

    WHAT KIND OF SICKNESS IS THIS?????

  11. Suga

    October 25, 2016 at 10:20 pm

    Hmmm, I believe I have heard everything hearable after reading this today. I can’t even deal with my emotions right now and to think that some girls are still experiencing this even as I write makes my legs weaker. Female circumcision is horrible and barbaric but these is unbelievably unimaginable. No wonder a lot of them are not allowed to go to school so they would remain intimidated for life. Thought Nigeria was under developed until I read this peace. God please help Africa as we are hopeless and helpless beyond every reasonable doubt. This is so sad, pathetic and weakening! ??

  12. Truthie

    October 26, 2016 at 12:28 am

    Wait, is this the same world??
    Same world where 15year olds are winning Nobel prize
    Where 17 year olds are winning grammies
    Where 19year olds are designing new apps for iPhone 7
    Same world where USA is planning to go to Mars?
    That foolish mothers are obeying useless and harmful traditions , and useless hyenas are roaming about with diseased sperm
    Africa shame!!

  13. tunmi

    October 26, 2016 at 1:02 am

    I am so so so proud of her work. In the name of tradition, mother kill their daughters. I’m glad people are listening and actively working to correct this wrong.

  14. Flexe

    October 26, 2016 at 5:08 am

    This is so bad, really bad. The people waiting for me to help them….I have to make it.
    I’m coming for y’all!
    God bless you Natasha!

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