A Cruel Cut in the Name of Tradition: One Woman’s Story of How She Fought Back against Female Genital Mutilation

TaretoMaa
Posted December 8, 2012 from Kenya

The terror of what was to come overwhelmed me. I could run no more and knew that for my mother to be spared from being beaten and from possible death, I had to submit to my father’s will. I was to be circumcised, and could do nothing to stop it.

Back then I knew nothing about the risk of bleeding to death, the transmission of infectious diseases, the permanent damage done to a girl’s life – all these things that can occur with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). I just believed devoutly that it is wrong and harmful. I did not find anyone who was able to protect me though.

I was only 12, when my father took me from school and told me it is time for me to be circumcised. I asked my mother for help. She said that, as a woman, she could not resist my father’s will. “All you can do is to run away,” she said. I asked my sister Esther. “Mother is right,” she answered, “they will force you.” She helped by giving me some money. So one morning I caught the bus to an older sister who lived in Nairobi.

My father started to ask: “Where is Naingol’ai?” (My Maasai name.) My mother denied she knew where I was. However, my father found out and started to beat my mother and threatened her: “If Naingol’ai does not return within a week, I will beat you to death!” My mother wrote me a letter. She was very scared and pleaded with me to come back. Anxious about losing my mother, I returned home. I found my mother lying in a dark corner of her hut, stone-still. I thought she was dead and I had come too late. My father had beaten her so badly with his traditional Maasai stick – her head, her legs, her hands … she was injured everywhere. Her eyes were so swollen that she could not see but only hear me. I was in such a state of anguish. “Thank you for coming back,” my mother whispered, exhausted and in pain. Three days later, the circumcision ceremonies began.

There were 30 girls to be circumcised. As I come from a very large Maasai family, my father having six wives and I being one of around 50 children by him. Six of the girls to be circumcised were my sisters; the others came from the neighbourhood. We received a new dress and most of the girls were excited, completely in ignorance of what was going to happen. Some of the older women were making jokes, saying that if they were young again they would run away. No one said why though.

Although FGM was illegal in Kenya even then, in the 1990’s, people were not prosecuted by the police, and the teachers in school did not even mention FGM and why it was prohibited. It was an expected course that this would happen to all girls in our community. According to the traditional beliefs, the circumcision turns a girl into a woman who is fit for marriage. Circumcision is said to “clean” the girl and to guarantee that she will be a faithful wife.

The circumcision ceremony started with two days of dancing and singing. Then, on the third day at six a.m. we were taken outside. All our family and neighbours attended; small children were bouncing around, playing and laughing. The girls who were going to be circumcised laid down on cow skins, two to three girls to each one. Then a woman came along with a knife and she cut us. The procedure took a minute for each girl. This was performed without anaethestic, no cleaning or disinfection and with the same knife. To cry out during this ceremony would have been seen as shameful, so no one screamed. The pain was very short lived initially. However the pain that came later was terrible.

We were moved into a big house and had someone care for us, usually an older sister. We were too weak to get up alone or to go to the toilet without help. For a whole week, there was nothing but tears and pain. Nothing made the pain go away. The girls cried all day and night, unable to eat or sleep. I lost a lot of blood. It was a relief when, at last, I lost consciousness.

I was lucky enough to survive. However, many girls bleed to death after being cut. Other girls die later due to infections that are caused by the procedure, HIV/AIDS being one of the diseases that are spread by the cuttings. Moreover FGM causes an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths, as the scar tissue can delay the childbirth process. According to the World Health Organization, about 92 million African girls age 10 years and above have suffered FGM.

The cutting was not the end of this story though. It is customary to be married soon after circumcision. I was to be married only one month after being cut. One morning, I heard there was a visitor, a man, about 60 years old and married with five wives. I asked my mother who is it? She said: “This is the man who wants to marry you. He has brought food, beverages, and blankets and is talking to your father now.” I was upset, “No-way am I going to marry this stranger!” Three weeks later, the man came back and the final date for the marriage was set and a dowry agreed. So I knew I had to run away again, and this time it had to be permanent. At sunrise I began my journey to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. I knew there was work and perhaps someone who could help me. I walked all day until the evening. When I arrived I was lucky because a man from my home district was willing to help me. So I found a job there.

Back home, this time my mother did not wait for her husband to start beating her as a means of making me return home. She took my youngest brother (fortunately all my other siblings were old enough and had left home) and escaped to her own family. My mother’s older brother talked to my father and calmed the situation. Eventually, father promised he would not beat my mother anymore. However, he said I was no longer his daughter and never wanted to see me again. I was cast out.

I didn’t see my father for seven years. During those years change was taking place for the better. Although my brothers did not help me when I fought against being cut, they refused to circumcise their own daughters. My father pressurized them a great deal but they refused. In the end, even my father was persuaded to change his mind. When we met after all those years he said to me: “Come home Naing’olai. You are welcome.” He respected me for the stand I had taken.

The Tareto Maa Organization was founded on a personal vision and a determination to stop this barbaric practice that happened to me. I wanted to offer protection to young girls who had nowhere to go for help. I spoke with many people in my community who agreed to support the task of protecting the girls from circumcision and child marriage. So Tareto Maa was founded in April, 2009.

In 2009, there were seven girls who asked for shelter. Within 18 months this number had risen to 27 girls, all sheltered in private houses. Soon there were no more homes available for girls who came to ask for protection. We had to send new girls back home. I will never forget their tears and their despairing question: “Why have you helped some of the children but not me?”

By October 2010, we raised funds for a shelter, helped by a growing number of supporters, especially from Europe and North America. This was opened, 1st January, 2011. Presently 96 girls are in our care. Our campaigning within the local community has also seen successes. Many families are starting to re-think the practice of circumcision and child marriage. But the fight is not over yet.

I want to offer girls the protection which I and many others like me needed, but did not have when we were young. This is why Tareto Maa was founded and this is what creates an impetus for it to grow further. There can be an alternate rite of passage for a girl to become a woman; where she will benefit her family by having health and an education. Tareto Maa works towards this goal. However, many girls are still at risk. There is still a long way to go.

Gladys Kiranto.

Ending Gender-Based Violence 2012

Comments 40

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Leina
Dec 10, 2012
Dec 10, 2012

Gladys thanks for sharing your powerful story in such a beautiful way.Your courage is an inspiration for us all.I am so happy you are now a source of hope to the younger generation of girls in your community.May God bless your efforts with success. hugs, Leina

TaretoMaa
Dec 12, 2012
Dec 12, 2012

Thank you Leina. Your words to me are very encouraging and makes all the efforts worthwhile. Thank you for taking the time to read this story. I was so touched by your reply.

wanja
Dec 10, 2012
Dec 10, 2012

thank you for sharing, it takes courage to do what you are doing and to turn you pain into joy for all the girls that benefit from your work. Keep going!

TaretoMaa
Dec 12, 2012
Dec 12, 2012

Thank you EWG. It is always good to hear that. I and the Tareto Maa team will keep going and your comments are so much appreciated. Thanks again.

mrbeckbeck
Dec 10, 2012
Dec 10, 2012

Thank you Gladys, for sharing your powerful, personal story here with the world. It is an honor to witness your courageous voice, and to hear the steps that you are taking to ensure no girl in the future is forced to endure such a painful practice. You are an inspiring leader, and I am so grateful that you are here with us.

Keep it up! With deep respect,

TaretoMaa
Dec 12, 2012
Dec 12, 2012

Thank you Scott. I am very humbled by your words but thank you very much for them. I am an ordinary women who wanted no other girl to go through what I went through. That is what keeps me going. I thank you so much for reading my story and for your comments.

Sangita Thapa
Dec 10, 2012
Dec 10, 2012

Dear Gladys,

Thank you so much for sharing your story. Its so commendable and a great relief that you did your best to help those innocent girls who are the victims of our society's cruel customs. Keep up your good work dear sister!

Love and Peace

TaretoMaa
Dec 12, 2012
Dec 12, 2012

Thank you Sangita. I have been so touched by everybody's responses on here and wanted to thank you all individually. I am very grateful for all the support that this story has received. We will keep up this work for all girls who need us.

Merlin James
Dec 11, 2012
Dec 11, 2012

Dear Gladys,

You are an inspiration to many dear, you have taken a bold yet thoughtful step of leading younger generation into the safer world.All the best in all your ventures.

Thanks for sharing this great story.

Blessings.

TaretoMaa
Dec 12, 2012
Dec 12, 2012

Dear Sharontina, Thank you for your best wishes and support. We hope this generation will be the first of many to see that the world for them can be a safer place. I am very happy to share this story with you and all who visit this site.

Usha K.C.
Dec 11, 2012
Dec 11, 2012

Dear Glady Have heard so much about FGM on WP newswire by many sisters. Here, your personal story has touched me again. Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience it's story of tear,pain and ofcourse story of courage:))

keep sharing your story on.

TaretoMaa
Dec 12, 2012
Dec 12, 2012

Hi Usha, Thanks for this. Glad that my story touched you and that you have learned about this subject on WP newswire. The more people that hears this message the better. Your support is vital in the work that we do, if we want to eradicate this practice for good. Thanks for your support.

Naomi Kinyanjui
Dec 11, 2012
Dec 11, 2012

Truly God has brought you this far for a purpose and a reason, may you continue to be the voice of the voiceless. Your test is truly the testimony you have given us here. I believe the success of Tareto Maa will bring a difference to the lives of those who cannot speak up about it. Your courage to just walk off to look for a job in the Mara, that is braveity and walking in faith into the unknown.

Blessings and continue speaking up. I intend on sharing this around for sure :-)

TaretoMaa
Dec 12, 2012
Dec 12, 2012

Thanks for sharing this story with anyone you know. The more the message is spread the better. We have to speak up and we heard to finally abolish this cruel tradition. Your support in this work is much appreciated.

Celine
Dec 11, 2012
Dec 11, 2012

Hello Gladys,

I applaud your courage and the change you stand for. Your personal story embodies success and I believe the Tareto Maa has come to give support and voice to the helpless and voiceless girls in Kenya.

Keep up the good work.

Celine

TaretoMaa
Dec 12, 2012
Dec 12, 2012

Thank you Celine. We hope to give a voice to those who can not speak up for themselves and a place to come when they feel they have no where to go. That they do have a choice. Thanks for your support in this work.

weaverheart
Dec 11, 2012
Dec 11, 2012

Dear Gladys,

Thank you for writing your story. Your courage and clarity of mind are so strong. I am so sorry that you had to undergo such suffering and pain. We are extremely grateful for the work that you are now doing, and saving so many lives in these girls you are helping. They will be forever grateful to you. The work you are doing will be far reaching, even beyond what you might think. You are planting seeds of change in an enormous way. Bravo.

Thank you and many blessings to you.

With love, Laura

TaretoMaa
Dec 12, 2012
Dec 12, 2012

Dear Laura. Your words are truly inspiring to me and the team and helps us keep going when it gets tough. I appreciate all that you have said here and hope that, yes, we have planted the seeds of change for now and the future. Thanks for your support.

Marian Hassan
Dec 12, 2012
Dec 12, 2012

Dear Glady,

Thank you so much for sharing your story, its an inspiration to all of us. It takes ones courage to turn the problems faced in to opportunities to help other victims and you are one of them.

Kudos dear sis!

TaretoMaa
Dec 12, 2012
Dec 12, 2012

Thank you so much. I am glad it is inspiring to others. It is good when troubles can be turned into help and suffering into opportunities for others, not to share the same fate. I am grateful for your reply.

Prudence Chinemu Phiri
Dec 13, 2012
Dec 13, 2012

Gladys I have run out of words, you the woman the world needs, congratulations for courage

TaretoMaa
Dec 17, 2012
Dec 17, 2012

Thank you for so much for reading and commenting back. This is much appreciated to spread the message and for this practice to stop.

Sutanuka Banerjee
Dec 14, 2012
Dec 14, 2012

So powerful... you and your story....

TaretoMaa
Dec 17, 2012
Dec 17, 2012

Many thanks for stopping by, reading this and for your kind words.

Kara Lozier
Dec 18, 2012
Dec 18, 2012

Dear Gladys,

Your story is a powerful one - even moreso because of how you have used your experience to end a barbaric practice and rescue other young girls at risk of this tradition. It's encouraging to see the change in attitudes just within your own family. Often these changes take generations. Your courage and strength and tenacity have made a huge difference. And I believe you have empowered the girls you have saved. Keep up the great work, Gladys. The world needs more changemakers like you!

Peace and blessings, Kara-Amena

TaretoMaa
Jan 20, 2013
Jan 20, 2013

Thanks for the kind words and your support which is so much appreciated.

Mistelle Montague
Jan 05, 2013
Jan 05, 2013

What a powerful story. It takes so much courage to do what you did and start the process of change for others. Thank you for sharing and raising your voice.

TaretoMaa
Jan 20, 2013
Jan 20, 2013

Thank you for your kind words and comments. Much appreciated. Hoping that Tareto Maa is one story among many where change can and is actually taking place. Thanks for your support.

Zoe
Jan 18, 2013
Jan 18, 2013

Dear Gladys,

Thank you for having the courage to share your story with us. It is women like you that begin the paradigm shift. You will remain in my thoughts.

With love,

Zoe Piliafas Voice of Our Future Manager

TaretoMaa
Jan 20, 2013
Jan 20, 2013

Thanks for listening and for your kind comments. It means a lot to me. Hope to be able to keep in touch. Many thanks again, Gladys.

Mohini Kamwani
Feb 01, 2013
Feb 01, 2013

Mercy Death (Euthanasia) Plea To President FROM POOR & HELPLESS 77 YEAR OLD WIDOW SENIOR CITIZEN & HER FAMILY by Mohini Kamwani on Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 8:10pm ·

06 January 2013

The Hon. President of India – Shri Pranab Mukherjee ji

RE: MERCY DEATH PLEA – FROM 77 YR SR. CITIZEN WIDOW OF FREEDOM FIGHTER

Enclosed please find…2 Mercy Death Pleas…dated 03 January 2012 & 16 April 2012… sent by me to Former President Hon. Pratibha Patil ji…with Reasons of POLICE & GOVT. INJUSTICE…since last 2 years… to 77 Yr Sr. Citizen Widow Of Freedom Fighter…who went to Jail with Mahatma Gandhi ji !!!

Police…is Supposed to Protect 77 yr Sr. Citizen Widow & Mentally Challenged Girl…or…JAIL & Do CRUELTY to them???!!! …see the Ugly Truth►http://www.facebook.com/notes/mohini-kamwani/more-prima-facie-documentar...

+++

►►►Now…Please see…Big PROOF…of …Hon. Bombay High Court Order (Attached) … How Police TRIED to Lie, made False Sworn Affidavits to Hon. BHC & FORGERY of FALSE entries into Station Diary !!!...& How Hon. BHC Justices A.S.Oka & S.S.Shinde CAUGHT Police… SHOCKING !!!

►►►This Order passed by Hon. Justices A.S.Oka & S.S.Shinde on 23-11-12

… was Not being Posted on BHC website…I wrote letters & made at least 20 Calls to BHC … that other Orders of These Hon. Judges from 23-11-12 to 30-11-12 have already been Posted, but Why my Order was Not Posted ???!!!... after that this Order was Posted on 01-12-12 !!!

+++

►►►Me & my son were Arrested & Jailed ILLEGALLY…even after 40 Letters from Hon. President, PM, Sonia Gandhi ji, MHA, Governor of Maharashtra…so Your Hon. Can Imagine …what Police/Govt. WILL DO TO US…AFTER FINAL JUDGMENT FROM HON. BOMBAY HIGH COURT???!!!

+++

►►►My Hon. BHC Writ Petition Respondents…Navi Mumbai Police & Maharashtra Govt….were Not Afraid of Hon. BHC to Lie, made False Sworn Affidavits to Hon. BHC & FORGERY of FALSE entries into Station Diary…so…Your Hon. Can Imagine…what False Reports they have Made in Last 2 Years & sent to Central Govt. ???!!!

+++

►►►Our Persecution has ALREADY Started…by Rich & Powerful Accused…filing Frivolous Defamation cases against us …in Hon. JMFC Vashi Court…& using False Police Reports in the Court !!!...so Threatening a Poor & Helpless 77 yr Sr. Citizen Widow REPEATEDLY Even after Police Notices …is Not a Crime???...but if Police DO NOT take Legal action against Rich & Powerful Accused & that 77 yr Sr. Citizen Widow INFORMS the World/Society that Accused have been Served Police Notices TWICE for Threatening her…is a Crime???!!!

►►►This is …Because…No Action has been taken against Rich & Powerful Accused + Police …that they have …Influenced/Interfered in my Justice Process for Last 2 Years …+…AGAIN Started to do More Atrocities on us…in the Hon. JMFC Vashi Court & DSAME Hon. Magistrate…Shri Lohare ji…who sent us to Jail BEFORE Illegally !!!

►►► ►►► So…More INJUSTICE is being done to us…That is why…Your Hon. :

WE REQUEST US TO GRANT US MERCY DEATHS

Please Grant me, my son & my Mentally Challenged daughter Mercy Death.

►►►Then We Request You Hon. President To Please Ensure Sale Of Our House & From Our “Blood Money” Please Pay The Bribes To Corrupt Police Officers & Ministers So That Atleast After Our Deaths They Will Register Our FIR Against Criminal Accused Who Are Not Leaving Us Even After We Severed Our Relation With Them.

►►►OUR FIR WILL NOT BE REGISTERED WITHOUT BRIBES

With HIGHEST Regards

Mohini Kamwani – 77 yr Sr. Citizen

Facebook: Mohini Kamwani Twitter: @MohiniKamwani & @KamwaniMohini Email: mohini.kamwani@gmail.com

TaretoMaa
Feb 01, 2013
Feb 01, 2013

Dear Mohini,

We are truly touched by your plight and your petition has been re-tweeted on twitter and passed on before but I don't know why you have placed it here. This is for comments regarding Glady's story and really not the place for it here. If you feel your story relates to gender-based violence, then please write your story to Worldpulse and get your message heard. This piece of writing does not give any reader any link of where to go to even sign a petition. I am very sorry but I feel placing this here will not get your voice or message heard in a constructive way. I hope you understand this. Regards, Helen Marshall on behalf of Gladys Kiranto and Tareto Maa.

Rahmana Karuna
Mar 01, 2013
Mar 01, 2013

Thank you gladys for writing and sharing your story. Rahmana

TaretoMaa
Mar 06, 2013
Mar 06, 2013

Thank you Rahmana for your comment here and for reading this story. Any reading of this is very much appreciated. My best wishes to you. Gladys.

zha zha
Apr 06, 2013
Apr 06, 2013

Gladys, the pain and terror is overwhelming even as I read your story, what more you and all the girls who had to go through it. You are truly a woman of great courage. God bless.

TaretoMaa
Apr 11, 2013
Apr 11, 2013

Thank you zha zha for your kind words here. I am very touched. Thank you for reading this story. God bless you too, Gladys.

Tamarack Verrall
Sep 27, 2015
Sep 27, 2015

Dear Gladys,

Thanks to WorldPulse both your personal story and the story of all you have accomplished is being read still. I am so heartened to read it, partly to have so much more information about your organisation TaretoMaa, but also to know about you. The news is speading around the world of the work that women are doing in Kenya to protect girls from FGM. It becomes all the more powerful to read directly from you. The video also touched my heart. I want you to know that women in Canada are becoming aware of the changes taking place, and send love and support to you. 

With love in Sisterhood,

Tam

TaretoMaa
Sep 27, 2015
Sep 27, 2015

Dear Tam,

I'm very glad to read your comment, it gives me the strength to move forward and fight for women rights. So no one has to go through the same things as I did have to. That's why I share my story with you all. Thank you for your support.

I'd be happy to hear from you again.

Gladys

Paula Klassen
Jan 04, 2016
Jan 04, 2016

My eyes were moist as I read.  I was really feeling into the layers of intergenerational pain and suffering in your family.  The strength in being able to take a stand and say NO!  ENOUGH! speaks volumes, Gladys.  There is something fierce and sacred about standing in one's truth to set these boundaries.  I was particularily moved when you shared how years later, your father reconciled with you and your acknowledgement of the changes that you experienced with him.  The magnitude of your heart feels vast. 

An honor to witness you and read about the ripple effect you are creating for girls in Africa.   

Awah Francisca Mbuli
Sep 14, 2017
Sep 14, 2017

Hello Gladys,

Don't relent your efforts, you are doing a good job fighting against FGM.

Love,

Francisca Awah