Mama grabbed a piece of root from an old tree, then positioned me on a flat rock. she sat behind me, and pulled my head back against her chest, her legs straddling my body. I circled my arms around her thighs. My mother placed the root between my teeth. “Bite on this.” Mama leaned over and whispered to me, “you know I can’t hold you, try to be a good girl, baby, be brave for mama, it’ll go fast”. I peered between my legs and saw the gypsy woman getting ready. She looked like any other old Somali woman- with a colourful scarf wrapped around her head and a bright cotton dress- except there was no smile on her face. She looked at me sternly, a dead look in her eyes, then foraged through an old caret bag. My eyes were fixed on her because I wanted to know what she was going to cut me with. I expected a big knife, but instead, out of the bag she picked a tiny cotton sack. She reached inside and fished out a broken razor blade. She turned it from side to side to examine it, the sun was barely up but I could see some dried blood on the jagged edge of the blade. She spat on it and wiped it against her dress. While she was scrubbing, my world went dark as my mother tied a scarf around my eyes as a blindfold.
The next thing I felt was my flesh, my genitals being cut away. I heard the sound of the dull blade sawing back and forth through my skin. When I think back, I honestly can’t believe that this happened to me. There’s no way in the world I can explain what it feels like. It’s like somebody is slicing through the meat of your thigh, or cutting off your arm, except this is the most sensitive part of your body. However I didn’t move an inch because I wanted mama to be proud of me. I just laid there as if I was made of stone, telling myself the more I moved around the longer the torture would take. Unfortunately, my legs began to quiver of their own accord and shake uncontrollably and I prayed please God, let it be over quickly. Soon it was, because I passed out.
When I woke up, I thought we were finished, but now the worst of it had just begun. My blindfold was off, and I saw that the killer woman had piled next to her a stack of thorns from an acacia tree. She used these to puncture holes in my skin then poked a strong white thread through the holes to sew me up. My legs were completely numb, but the pain between them was so intense that I wished I would die. I felt myself floating up, away from the ground, leaving my pain behind. My memory ends at that instant, until I opened my eyes and the woman was gone. They had moved me and I was lying on the ground close to the rock. My legs had been tied together with strips of cloth binding me from my ankles to my hips so I couldn’t move. I looked around for my mother but she was gone too, so I lay there alone wondering what would happen next. I turned my head towards the rock, it was drenched with blood as if an animal had been slaughtered there. Pieces of my meat, my sex, lay on top, drying undisturbed in the sun.
I lay there watching the sun climb directly overhead. There was no shade around me and the waves of heat beat down on my face until my mother and sister returned. They dragged me into the shade of the bush while they finished preparing my tree. This was the tradition, a special little hut was prepared under a tree where I would rest and recuperate alone for the next few weeks until I was well. When mama and my sister had finished working, they carried me inside.
I thought the agony was over until I had to pee, then I understood my mother’s advise not to drink too much milk or water. After hours of waiting, I was dying to go, but with my legs tied together I couldn’t move. Mama had warned me not to walk so that I wouldn’t rip myself open because if the wound is ripped open, then the sewing has to be done again.
“I have to pee-pee,” I called to my sister. The look on her face told me this was not good news. She came and rolled me over on my side and scooped out a little hole in the sand. “Go ahead.” The first drop came out and stung as if my skin was being eaten by acid. After the gypsy sewed me up, the only opening left for urine and menstrual blood was a miniscule hole, the diameter of a match stick, this brilliant strategy ensured I could never have sex until I was married and my husband would be guaranteed he was getting a virgin. As the urine collected in my bloody wound and slowly trickled down my legs unto the sand, one drop at a time-I began to sob…..
Note: This is an excerpt from Waris Dirie’s “Desert wild flower“, a book where she chronicled her journey as a nomad from Somalia who survived Female genital mutilation at the tender age of 5 and later went on to become a successful model in the United States.
I was a little girl the first time I heard about female genital mutilation and it was from a Nollywood flick staring Liz Benson. If I remember correctly, she ran away from home at the age of 17, before the procedure could be carried out on her. In subsequent years, I’ve read about it and even talked about it from the medical point of view but when I read Waris Dirie’s words, for the first time, I truly felt the pain and agony those who have been subjected to this act felt and are still feeling, it actually brought tears to my eyes. So, I figured, why not let you guys also read….
It is also good to note that while in office President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill to officially ban female genital mutilation in Nigeria, a move that has been lauded by several parties who also noted that while it might be a step in the right direction, a lot still has to be done.
Below is more about Female genital mutilation from the WHO official website…..
Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. However, more than 18% of all FGM is performed by health care providers, and the trend towards medicalization is increasing.
FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.
Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types.
• Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
• Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
• Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
• Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
No health benefits, only harm
FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.
Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.
Long-term consequences can include:
• recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections;
• an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths;
• the need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3 above) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks.
Who is at risk?
Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15, and occasionally on adult women. In Africa, more than three million girls have been estimated to be at risk for FGM annually.
More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated (1).
The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among migrants from these areas.
Cultural, religious and social causes
The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.
• Where FGM is a social convention, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice.
• FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
• FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore believed to help her resist “illicit” sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (type 3 above), the fear of the pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage “illicit” sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.
• FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and “beautiful” after removal of body parts that are considered “male” or “unclean”.
• Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
• Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination.
• Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice.
• In most societies, FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.
• In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighbouring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement.
• In some societies, FGM is practised by new groups when they move into areas where the local population practice FGM.
In December 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the elimination of female genital mutilation.
In 2010 WHO published a “Global strategy to stop health care providers from performing female genital mutilation” in collaboration with other key UN agencies and international organizations.
In 2008 WHO together with 9 other United Nations partners, issued a new statement on the elimination of FGM to support increased advocacy for the abandonment of FGM. The 2008 statement provides evidence collected over the past decade about the practice. It highlights the increased recognition of the human rights and legal dimensions of the problem and provides data on the frequency and scope of FGM. It also summarizes research about on why FGM continues, how to stop it, and its damaging effects on the health of women, girls and newborn babies.
The new statement builds on the original from 1997 that WHO issued together with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Since 1997, great efforts have been made to counteract FGM, through research, work within communities, and changes in public policy. Progress at both international and local levels includes:
• wider international involvement to stop FGM;
• international monitoring bodies and resolutions that condemn the practice;
• revised legal frameworks and growing political support to end FGM (this includes a law against FGM in 24 African countries, and in several states in two other countries, as well as 12 industrialized countries with migrant populations from FGM practicing countries);
• in most countries, the prevalence of FGM has decreased, and an increasing number of women and men in practising communities support ending its practice.
Research shows that, if practicing communities themselves decide to abandon FGM, the practice can be eliminated very rapidly.
In 2008, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution (WHA61.16) on the elimination of FGM, emphasizing the need for concerted action in all sectors – health, education, finance, justice and women’s affairs.
WHO efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation focus on:
• strengthening the health sector response: guidelines, training and policy to ensure that health professionals can provide medical care and counselling to girls and women living with FGM;
• building evidence: generating knowledge about the causes and consequences of the practice, how to eliminate it, and how to care for those who have experienced FGM;
• increasing advocacy: developing publications and advocacy tools for international, regional and local efforts to end FGM within a generation.
WHO is particularly concerned about the increasing trend for medically trained personnel to perform FGM. WHO strongly urges health professionals not to perform such procedures.