Early last week, the Somali government indicated that plans were in motion to ban FGM. "Time has come to eradicate this bad practice and protect the rights of girls and women in our country," Sahra Mohammed Ali Samatar, the minister of women's affairs, said at a recent conference in Mogadishu.
The list of potential side effects includes chronic incontinence; keloid vaginal scars; vulval abscesses; HIV; hemorrhage, and death.
For 50-year-old Mary in Kenya, it was watching as girl almost bleed to death that gave her "second thoughts" after 20 bloody years as West Pokot'"best cutter'. Cutting girls was customary in Mary's family, an expectation of the transition into womanhood. Her description of the event is disturbingly upbeat, verging on celebratory."The whole community was watching and the crowd had been gathering since morning," she says, "I'd give the girl courage and tell her, be calm, I am here for you. It can be slippery, so we use some ash to get a good grip. There are veins there. It's very difficult, very technical. You have to be really careful."
If I was to say no, I would not be here now, talking to you.
It's not life or death for all cutters. But for many women, repressive social norms combine with deep-rooted inequality and lack of education to produce the conditions necessary for FGM to thrive.Nimco Ali, an FGM survivor and the co-founder of FGM organization Daughters of Eve, believes that resistance can only occur when there is a true understanding of the practice in the context of a patriarchal and oppressive society.Ali argues that carrying out the procedure yourself legitimizes the traumatic experience and is therefore an effective form of repression. "The easiest way to dismiss pain and not to deal with it is to legitimize it," she says, "and the easiest way to legitimize it is to perpetrate the crime and carry it on."
The easiest way to dismiss pain and not to deal with it is to legitimize it. The easiest way to legitimize it is to perpetrate the crime and carry it on.
Four years ago, the charity Action Aid paid a visit to West Pokot. Last year, it conducted 483 projects in communities across Africa and mobilized 151,000 women-- Mary and Jane among them--to challenge practices of sexual violence.When Mary's aid worker told her about the effects of FGM on young girls' education, she was shocked and began reporting other cutters in the community to the authorities. "I didn't want to be the reason a girl would not be able to go to school," she says.Both Mary and Jane act as 'watcher women' for their rural Kenyan villages. With the maximum penalty in Kenya for carrying out FGM a ten-year prison sentence, the fear of getting caught is an effective deterrent. WHO intervention involving more than 2,000 women across Africa and Egypt found that increasing knowledge led to a commitment to abandoning FGM and a decrease in the number of women having their daughters cut.For both Jane and Mary, there's no doubting the success of their intervention. After 20 years of clitoral cutting, excisions and infibulations, ex-cutter Mary has turned her back on FGM once and for all. "I would never do it again," she says. "Not for anything."Find out more about Action Aid's campaign to end female genital mutilation here.
I didn't want to be the reason a girl would not be able to go to school.