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Yet among the very real risks of the procedure are infection, shock and haemorrhage, as well as lifelong complications and pain with menstruation, urination, intercourse and childbirth.
For women who have had infibulation - in which all or part of the external genitalia are removed, and the vaginal opening then narrowed and stitched together -unassisted childbirth is impossible, and many women and children die as a consequence.
Kenya has close to 550,000 AIDS orphans, and an estimated 78,000 children living with HIV/AIDS. In Burundi, for example, where an estimated 20% of urban dwellers and 6% of rural dwellers are HIV positive, infection rates in girls aged 15 to 19 years old are four times greater than those for similarly aged boys.
On the positive side, East African governments now discuss the situation openly, and you'll notice AIDS-related billboards in Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and elsewhere in the region.
At the other end of the spectrum are the small cadres of wealthy in Nairobi and other capital cities who drive fancy 4WDs, live in Western-style houses in posh residential areas and send their children to university in London or elsewhere.
Most East Africans fall somewhere in between these scenarios, although far more are closer to the former than the latter.
Also look for Three Swahili Women: Life Histories from Mombasa; Kenya by Sarah Mirza and Margaret Strobel.
Take a look at East Africa's economy, and you'll find a mixed picture.
Women always work, either outside the home or tending to the family and garden, and many students don't have the opportunity to finish secondary school.