Knife used for girls' genital cutting in the hands of an old circumciser woman.
© Friedrich Stark / Alamy Stock Photo

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is still a serious matter of concern in this developing nation of Kenya. According to Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) 2014 report, the prevalence of FGM in young girls and women between the ages of 15 – 49 in Kenya stands at 21 per cent; this means meaning one in every five girls between the ages of 12 and 18 years has undergone what is known as ‘the cut’.

 

Zulfa Fatuma* is a Borana, a subethic of Oromo people who live in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. She was born in a Cushitic group of community that’s Borana specifically, but currently live in Nairobi. Hers is one of the highest affected communities with regard to FGM. Passionate about serving others and with a strong sense of justice, Fatuma carries out volunteer work where she cares for elderly people. She invited me to share her story of defiance against FGM.

 

I began by asking her about her understanding of FGM: How did she come to know about it in the first place?

 

“While I was still young, I witnessed my elder sisters and other female friends undergoing FGM, which is referred as ngava ngava in our local dialect,” she explained, “It was never a nice thing to see. I could hear my sisters cry so bitterly and helplessly, yet my mother would still rejoice that they were undertaking the ritual. I became so afraid and disturbed of when it would be my turn. I was counting the days with dread, ravaged with flashbacks of the way my two elder sisters had suffered.”

 

I asked about what she had been like at the age of 13, when Fatuma would have been expected to follow suit.

 

“I was in class seven when by good chance, the government and other organisations committed fully against FGM,” she says, “They made it clear that if anyone were to be found still practicing FGM, they should be reported to the nearby Chief or any other authority who could take the legal measures.”

 

The practice continued in secret, but the government’s decision affirmed what schools had begun to teach: FGM was of high risk and no physiological benefit. In fact, it was wholly unnecessary. And Fatuma listened to these lessons, and learned. She gathered considerable information about FGM from the radio, television and blogs, grateful that she was a little bit exposed to technology that empowered her with credible knowledge as she counted the hours until she, too, would face the razor.

 

“I had all the information I needed, so I was very clear in my articulation to my mother when I told her: ‘Look, Mum. I am not going to undertake this and if you force me I will report you to the Chief.’ I remained assertive with my decision and up to this date, I have not been cut.”

 

She smiles and continues with a firm face: “ I can never stand such a thing, even today. If I see any girl child at risk of undergoing the cut, I will do anything humanly possible to ensure is doesn’t happe. I have seen my fellow girls succumb to this and die due to excessive bleeding.”

 

“How were you treated whenever you went back to your community?” I asked, all too aware of traditionalist loyalties to the practice despite the overwhelming evidence against it. Girls in Fatuma’s situation – defiant against FGM – can be marginalised or alienated from their peers.

 

“Some girls would come and ask me how I felt knowing that I am not cut. From that, I could see how their mind-sets were constrained to think the practice is okay and that they deserve it.”

 

Now, at the age of 24, I ask how this brave and pioneering girl relates to her elders, and inparticular, her mother? At this, she chuckles.

 

“After years of pulling from different poles, now she’s so easy with me I think she came to understand.”

 

Stories like Fatuma’s show the importance of access to information to dispel outdated and unfounded traditional practises. Fatuma is an exceptionally brave and informed girl, but not all others have the same privilege, and community pressures are significant. Even today, we find young men in the these communities who say that they cannot marry what they describe as ‘uncircumcised’ girls. Another ridiculous implication around FGM is that when a girl has been circumcised, she won’t experience sexual desires and therefore will remain virginal for her future husband. This belief is not founded in science nor in hope. If you cut the clitoris, you’ve not interfered or restricted any hormones… the only thing is that you’re damaging the bodies and bright future of the young girl you are subjecting to FGM.

 

Having the right information to speak out against FGM is key in the fight to end it. Having these girls, boys, parents and entire communities become mobilisers against FGM by understanding the lack of evidence to support the practice and prioritise the health of an individual will be very instrumental towards zero tolerance to FGM.

 

 

*Not her real name.

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