A Future Without Female Genital Mutilation

My Story

I remember being forced to lie down on three old mattresses: two stretched on an angareb (a wooden bed popular in Sudan); the other plied under my torso. My midwife Hajja sat on a low wooden stool. Our eyes met as she faced my naked body.

“Now you are a woman,” she said. “A real woman never cries. I will remove this dirt, and you will become clean, a real Muslim.”

There were several women around me during the ritual. Two took hold of my thighs, while two others firmly held my arms. Another sat behind me and put my head on her lap. With her right hand she covered my eyes. As she put her left arm on my chest, she must have felt my heart beating fast because she said, “Honor your father’s name. Don’t be afraid; this is not painful. You have seen your sister and your cousins. They did not cry.” I didn’t dare utter a sound as tears ran down my face.

“In the name of Allah Most Gracious, Most Merciful,” Hajja said. She raised her fat hand, ornamented with golden bracelets, and addressed the women around her. “Open her widely,” she murmured.

I felt the fingers of her left hand moving my nudity apart and then a sharp needle piercing my flesh up and down and in the middle. I cried at the top of my voice and tried to raise my torso to kick the two women who were firmly holding my thighs.

“Oh women, hold her firmly!” Hajja cried.

I was anesthetic resistant.

Suddenly, she started cutting. The pain was excruciating. I cried like a mad person. Her head was bent between my thighs, but I felt as if she was cutting in the middle of my skull. More women were called to hold me down. Some of them nicknamed me coward.

Hajja called one of the old ladies over and asked, “Does everything look okay?”

“No, no,” said the old woman, “Cut this piece. Yes, this one. And remove her clitoris. What is the use of it? And, remove the dirt. Do as I tell you.” It was Grandmother Amna, doing her best to establish herself as the expert in the anatomy of young girls.

Again Hajja bent between my thighs and cut me with the razor. Or perhaps it was a kitchen knife. I was sure of one thing only: She wasn’t wearing gloves or covering her head. She wore only her white short dress. She was fat and stout and mowed my flesh with no mercy.

And then came the stitches: nine in all, causing me pain and panic whenever I tried to move.

I was only 6 years old—too tiny to struggle.

Between Two Atrocities

The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that in Africa about three million girls are at risk for this barbaric practice annually.

My country of Sudan ranks fifth among countries practicing female genital mutilation (FGM) worldwide. According to a UNICEF report, 89% of Sudanese women are circumcised. That’s roughly 14 million women and girls.

In Sudan, there are three types of FGM practiced today: ‘Sunna’, removal of the hood and part of the clitoris; Clitoridectomy, removal of the clitoris and adjacent labia; and Infibulation, which consists of a complete Clitoridectomy as well as stitching of the labia, allowing only a small gap for urine and menstrual blood to pass through. In my point of view type one is the least practiced.

This past February the Sudanese government legalized the Sunna form of FGM. The Council of Ministers dropped the 13th article of the 2009 Children’s Act which banned FGM to take into account the Islamic fatwa that distinguishes “harmful” circumcision—Infibulation, Clitoridectomy, from less extensive procedures like Sunna.

Ironically, this decision came just one day before the world celebrated International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation.

With this decision, my dear homeland has taken decades of work against these practices back to square one. [paging]

History of Resistance

FGM was declared illegal in Sudan in 1941, but the practice has continued with little interruption.

Successive national surveys between 1979 and 1983 recorded that 96% of women have undergone FGM. In 1991, this percentage dropped to 89%. And now, in 2009, the UNICEF World Report on Children shows a drop of only 7.3%. This gradual shift in public attitudes toward FGM has been due in large part to efforts led by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Babikir Badri Scientific Studies Association on Women Studies (BBSAWS) in coordination with many other autonomous organizations and individuals. It is worth noting that BBSAWS was the first local NGO to shoulder the struggle against FGM in Sudan.

Several factors contribute to the prevalence of circumcision, including the absence of a long-term strategy against the practice, no implementation of strict measures to defend children, the concentration of NGOs in urban centers, associating circumcision with Islam, dominance of silly notions that FGM is a kind of purification and beautification, and the existence of beneficiaries who are resistant to change.

But our government’s legalization of the practice is the major obstacle. Whenever FGM is legal, it destroys efforts undertaken by NGOs, turns ethnic groups into advocators, and codifies the presence of groups who are officially supported to derive their livelihood from the profession, not to mention an increase of propaganda used to promote the practice.

Stigma and Economics

In Sudan, it is the women who shoulder the biggest responsibility for excisions. They are the practitioners and the supporters, while the majority of Sudanese men consider it “women’s affairs.”

Mothers and grandmothers who were victims of circumcision almost always request infibulations or the “Pharaonic” type of excision. The midwives get around the laws by claiming that they only perform “Sunna,” when in reality they practice only type two and three.

Midwives, like Hajaa Zeinab, never fail to honor a client’s request. They work in accordance with the law of supply and demand, not the law of the land. By doing so, they pull women into a vicious cycle of circumcision, decircumcision (tasheem) and recircumcision (adlah). The latter is normally performed to tighten a woman after giving birth.

Moreover, midwives have their own means of propaganda and advertising to increase their business. Whenever such a midwife is among a large number of women, she tells stories about uncircumcised girls being always dirty even if they spend the whole day showering. Of course, circumcised girls are always described by the famous phrase, “waa halati,” meaning, “what a nice girl!”

The gloomy picture reflected by my story does not deny the light at the end of the tunnel.

Change is in process. It will not happen overnight, but with persistence, proper education, and consistency, it is within reach.

I believe that in order to stop FGM in Sudan (and worldwide), civil society organizations, NGOs, artists, writers, dramatists, cartoonist, musicians, activists, media practitioners, physicians, the whole family, etc, must continue to pressure governments to not support this practice.

Continuation of personal efforts is a must. I, for one, prevented my young nieces from having to endure excision and convinced two illiterate mothers to abandon the practice.

I believe that an effective cure for this disease will have to involve personal and collective trials discussions. Men and women who don't practice female circumcision need to come in the open, and not hide in shame.

I recently received an email from a man named Mohamed Ahmed. He wrote, “As a man I didn't find it difficult to say I am married to an uncircumcised woman, and my 22-year-old daughter is not circumcised. This helped me in convincing many relatives and friends throughout more than 27 years to not practice FGM." I received his message with hope and great appreciation.

For the sake of my daughter from whose eyes beam a promising tomorrow and who brings seeds of change, I will continue to work at home and through the media to put an end to FGM.

Comment on this Editorial

Comments

Halima, as I read your post, my hair stood. I have no words for you dear at the moment ...I am speechless.

Who will come to the aid of the young girls? It is sad that this happens with no consent from the girls making it have an everlasting scar in their memories. Now that it happened to you,kindly raise against it, shout loud and clear that the girls dont have to suffer this way.

I will be glad also if we can be having some of your articles in our Womans Hope Magazine just to raise awareness on what is happening. Who knows,things might change for the better. Lets join hands and say no to genetal mutilation Consolata

Dear Consolata,

I apologize for responding late to your comment.I was damn busy and couldn't follow up. Thank you for your sympathy and solidarity. If it is not too late, please don't hesitate to make use of this article in your magazine. Just refer to the source.

Regards,

Halima

I am glad to read from you. I have revisited the story again and I can only say that you are such a wonderful woman who has a strong voice. Kindly use it to help other girls who are suffering silently and they have no-one to run to. Womans Hope will be humbled to publish this story and get to those who are practicing FGM. This will come at a better time when we are marking 16 days of Activism. Warm Hugs, Consolata

Thank you so much for your concern and encouragement. I am glad that my article has produced such an effect! Hoping that you have already published the article and that it has reached the targeted group.

In friendship,

Halima

Hello Halima, Congratulation for bringing this issues and your amazing featuring article. I read this article with my three friends together and we all feel so sorry and my heart was so heavy after reading this article. The image of your article is also very powerful. One of my friend read the article by the impress of picture. She is shraddha, and had already joined pulse wire She said she wants to hear more about this in the future.

Yes, there is an emergency to call for the action and say no to genetal mutilation. big hugs and love

With Love and RegardsSunita Basnet

Dearest Sunnita,

You made my day! Thank you so much for this rich and emotional comment. Am so touched by the effect it had generated on your friends. Please tell your friend who has joint the World Pulse my welcoming greetings. I agree with you that women should come closer and have strong solidarity among them so as to act together against harmful practices that hinder their march towards emancipation.

With love and hugs,

Halima

Dearest Halima,

Definately, I will convey then your warm greeting.

Yes, I do agree with you, we all have to come closer to bring cjhange in our respected community and gradually to the world.

Your story is really shocking and emotional.

With Love and RegardsSunita Basnet

Dearest sister and friend Sunita,

first I apologize for my late response to your rich, nice and encouraging comment. Notification feature of new comments and replies isn't applied here, plus am damn busy and it is difficult for me to follow my posts. But I should have and will, lest to not miss such rich comments. Second: am so happy that your friend has joined WP and become one of our colleagues. By the way, it wasn't me who provided the (marvelous) image of my article. It is the WP editing team. I would like to thank them for providing the right image.

Wishing you all the best.

Love,

Halima

While I am the first to respect the traditions and cultures of other societies, when it crosses the line of physical mutilation of such a debase nature it makes my blood curdle. Has anyone ever asked why this custom started? My theory is that it was to promote the chastity of women. They could no longer enjoy sexual encounters. And, the fact that it is done by women to women demonstrates to what extent social change in the eradication of domestic abuse within our societies must reach into the very core of how we think, live and interact.

Quenby Wilcox Founder - Global Expats quenby@global-xpats.com www.global-xpats.com

Dear Halima,

I admire your courage in sharing this painful story, and in working to rid the world of FGM. I learned recently this practice takes place in my home country, Colombia, where traditional indigenous tribes also circumcise their girls. It's surprising how cultures so different and cut off from the world could develop similar traditions. Sexism, clearly, at root of it all, since men don't get circumcised, and if they do it's for other reasons. I hope we can someday get to teach these women, who were once girls, of their worth and their value, and that there is no need of FGM for them to be pure, religious and admirable human beings.

I understand, even if I don't agree, why a mother would put her little girl through this. But I think the solution is not to make women aware, but to teach all society that there are other ways.

Best wishes, and lots of love,

Juana

Dearest Juana,

Thank you so much for passing and commenting on this article. As far as I know social and cultural practices are difficult to eradicate within a short period of time. Because in many circumstances people turn into tools serving the dominance of such practices as in my case.

I am sorry to hear that this crime is being pracised in your country ..I remember once I read that immigrants from Africa and Middle EAst and different parts of the world, have brought this harmful practice with them to the new locations and they, allegedly, are practising it as part of their social and rituals.

Lots of love,

Halima

Dear Halima,

Unfortunately, just talking, writing or raising the awareness is bringing an effective change in any of our societies.

According to Amnesty International foreign women in SPAIN in cases of domestic abuse have 1/4 of 1% chance of survival. The solution in Spain is to spend billions on politically correct rhetoric, passage of a few laws that the judicial systems spit on, and high profile publicity campaigns. In the past 2 1/2 years I have literally "run the gamit" within their judicial system and believe me it is not a pretty sight.

The social norms which maintain and perpetuate domestic violence and abuse, in all of its forms, are so ingrained in our cultures that until we start looking in, rather than looking out, none of the abuse will ever stopped. In my own story, my Spanish ex-mother in law, was perhaps the most instrumental in teaching and encouraging her sons to be abusive to me. When I told her that her son was threatening to kill me, she just responded "Que sera, que sera!" She was the one who taught her sons to have a violent temper, while their father taught them to be vicious, degenerate and cruel - All very well hidden and concealed "behind closed doors" of course. My ex-mother-in-law is a true drug-addict doped up on every kind of prescription medicine imaginable, with my ex-father-in-law, playing the concerned, "victimized" care-giver in public. I have watched this scene be played by three generations of my ex-husband's family. It is an age-old game that crosses the lines of religion and cultrue. See my articles published on this website and www.global-expats.com.

My ex-father-in-law would always tell me "Dirty laundery is washed within the family." To which I always responded "Well your problem is that you and your family just sweep your dirt under the carpet."

As with all abusors and psychopaths, they will NEVER admit or even think that their behavior is abusive. Another commonality is that they are totally convinced that their victims are responsible, and sometimes even enjoy, the pain inflicted.

I am sure that those women who commit genitial mutilation on young girls feel they are completely justified in their actions. "If it was good enough for me, it is good enough for my daughter." No amount of laws or sanctions will stop this or any other type of abuse or torture. Look at how many girls are being subjected to genetial mutilation in western societies, where it is illegal.

Until members of societies stand up and take responsibility for what is occurring in their and their neighbors own "back-yards," then abuse and all of the problems it creates will not go away. On several occassion in my life I have stood up and denounced corruption and abuses of power. I also have been ostracized (and stabbed in the back for it,) but on each occassion the "wrong" if not "righted," was at least discontinued.

Quenby Wilcox Founder - Global Expats quenby@global-xpats.com www.global-xpats.com

My dear, Womans Hope did your article. We really got so many responses and I could feel how annoyed women were. I trust you really touched so many souls. I urge you to keep on fighting this monster. If you dont mind you can be sending us your articles for publishing.

Let me know. Sister Consolata

Dear Halima, Thank you very much for sharing your story. I teach English as a second language, and have had many, many students, mostly from Somalia, who have suffered FGM. As a teacher I could never speak about this either to the girls or their parents. What I did do was talk to my boys and asked them if they would please not do this to their daughters. I was very pleased and a bit surprised at how receptive they were. They did not say "it's our culture, we must do it". They told me they would never do such a thing. One boy told me that living outside of his country had given him a wider vision about FGM, and about marriage and the daughters he would have. He thinks the other boys have had similar experiences. But your story is very much needed because so many people know nothing about it, and hearing it from you directly is very powerful.

pauli siemering

Women have gone through too much uneccessary pain just because of our gender. It is sad to see religion again used to disguise and justify such atrocities.

I thank you for your strength in telling your story.

hello, my name is Sana, Im in my early 20's and my sister and I are not circumcised. I find your article uplifting and I wish I can translate it to every language in the world so people realize what type of despicable horrific behavior is going on in some parts of the world. An injustic anywhere is an injustice everywhere was a saying from the great Martin Luther King jr. Fgm is a sick ,disgusting,horrible horrendous ignorant crime against females.The woman's body is the most beautiful. It is unthinkable how a person can chop off something as precious as the parts of a woman's privates.A woman's body should NEVER be touched with a knife, Allah (swt) created a woman's body in its beauty! its like mutilating a beautiful rose.There is nothing healthy,attractive,and beautiful about a mutilated bodypart that went throught FGM. The vagina is the main symbol of womanhood and female sexuality. Not having the parts that every woman is born with and every woman on the face of this planet has will cause someone to feel "unfeminine" "cold" "unattractive" . anyone who thinks different is sick and brainwashed by ignorant animalistic monsters!!! these women who agree with spreading the legs of a 4 year old baby girl to mutilate her privates are no better then those sick child molestors who prey on children,and the weakest in society is a little girl.Nothing justifies genital mutilation. In fact, no mutilation is allowed by Islam even in the battlefield. Not only is this procedure unjustifiable, it is brutal, inhumane and in violation of Islam

This sick practice predates Islam and Christianity, it has NO PLACE IN ISLAM. Islam is against supressing a woman's sexual desire. *FGM is known to have serious health issues to women and girls, both psychological and physical *Unhygienic,(NOT CLEAN) *NOT A PART OF ISLAM *Severe pain *sexual dysfunction and low sex drive. *During childbirth the risk of haemorrhage and infection is greatly increased

*Shock

*Haemorrhage *uterus, vaginal and pelvic infections *psychological damage ..not feeling like a real woman *trauma

*Tetanus or sepsis

*Urine retention

*Ulceration of the genital region and injury to adjacent tissue

*Wound infection

*Urinary infection

*Fever

*Septicaemia *late menstrual cycle in girl *Abscesses, dermoid cysts, and keloid scars *these are only some of the consequences of fgm,there is a whole huge list of more horrible things.

***death

recent studies have shown that females who underwent FGM have difficulties in childbirth,and they gave birth to underweight babies. Alot of babies born to women who underwent FGM have died.

What does Islam say about this? This sick practice predates Islam and Christianity, it has NO PLACE IN ISLAM. Islam is against supressing a woman's sexual desire. Sheikh Omar Ahmed,along with alot of other sheiks said It is a matter of abuse and violation of the female body and is quite clearly forbidden according to Islam," he told delegates from 13 African countries, Sweden and international bodies such as the World Health Organization. The Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah, issued a Fatwa in which he considered that all what causes harm to the soul, body and the sexual abilities of the males or females, as prohibited acts Islamic law protects a woman's right to sexual enjoyment during sex with her husband,Islam cares soo much about a woman's sexual pleasure that a woman has the right to divorce on the grounds that her husband does not provide sexual satisfaction. It follows that Islamic law prohibits clitorodectomy (partial or complete removal of the clitoris) or infibulation (excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening), or any genital mutilation which impairs the woman's ability to enjoy sexual relations. Islam protects the woman and her body from ignorant nonIslamic customs Allah(swt) created the clitoris for the sole purpose of generating pleasure. It has no other purpose, the clitoris' only purpose is to genreate sexual pleasure for a woman. In islam, Sexual relations between a man and his wife is highly encouraged. It is highly encouraged to satisfy your desire with your wife. How is tha tpossible with a mutilated woman? Mutilated genitalia reduce or eliminate a woman's pleasure during the act of sex. Men complain that the woman is "cold" during sex. female circumcision is NOT lawful by the Islamic Sharia, and it is NOT a part of the Sunnah of the Prophet (p.). WE NEED TO EDUCATE THE IGNORANT ,AND SPEAK UP AGAINST THIS SICK ACT. you will find some sick people who agree with FGM..these sick people still exist.THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO AGREE WITH MONSTERS(EVEN HITLER HAD SUPPORTERS,AS EVIL AS HE AND HIS POLICIES WERE). So of course there is a small amount of ignorant misguided individuals that think spreading the legs of a screaming 3 year old girl is okay. These disgusting women who agree with FGM are sooo hurt with what happened to them as children that they want some other little girl to go through what they went through and feel the same pain they did. SICK, people like that who do this to others and say that its okay deserve nothing less than torment in the hellfire.

Halima, It was very hard for me to read your article without cringing and wanting to avert my eyes from the words. It is saddening for me to imagine that everyday children have had to bear such a horrific practice. We, however, cannot bury our heads in the sand on this issue and must continue to bring it to light showing the world what is really going on. For this I congratulate you on your article and wish you good luck on your quest to help put an end to the practice.

KenG

Dear KenG,

I agree with you that we should write , give conferences, symposia and whatever we could do to stop this harmful practice and eradicate it for good. Many thanks for your encuraging words.

Regards,

Halima

This article although horrifying is very educational. It brings awareness to people from other countries and parts of the world. To think that this is still happening is horrible but to know that some women have reconsidered and have taken a stand to not perform this tradition is enlightening.

Thank you, Mia

je suis toujours triste de lire des histoires de mutilations faites aux jeunes filles .iCI au Sénégal cette horrible chose existe toujours mais c'est les femmes elles mêmes qui ont pris en charge ce combat et elles le fond bien grâce à l'aide des autorités religieuses et traditionnelles .

Aissatou

I was just wondering if you are familiar with the website and FGM abolition work of Waris Dirie? If not, maybe you could check it out and network together. If there is ever anything I can do you help and assist you, I'm here for you.

love and hugs K-lee

K-lee Starland, Ph.D.

I'am a victim too,- Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a major challenge that haunts woman to the present moment regardless of their boundaries .Contrary to the ancient justifications of FGM as a religious practice, it has now come clear that this evil act has no religious backing. With no guts to question the viability of such culture-based barbaric act, women had to silently bear its ordeals ranging from having difficulties in urination, painful menstruation and consummation times and child birth complications. Indeed, a sizeable number of initiates die immediately after the cut owing to excessive lose of blood.

Every One, Every Day ,Every Way, Prevent Vi0lenCE AgainST W0men On YouR Way!

Let me commend all of the sisters for publishing their experiences. As part of the empowerment of the sisters it is essential that the ones affected are enabled to lead the campaigns wherever possible. We will support the initiatives and source support for the campaigns. Eye am privileged to have a voice on a radio programme in the UK every other Saturday 9am-12.00 midday, and every Monday from 10am-12.00 midday. This resource is a local and Global voice .The link for the broad cast is as follows: www.galaxyafiwe.com I also have an organisation entitled iletocpn web site www.unifiedsisters.wordpress.com/researchprojects also iletocpn@yahoo.co.uk when the skype are up and running Eye will post the information for you to link If you would like. Keep the stories coming and do agree for me to publish them on the radio the web sites also Facebook contact Sistar kenya iletocpn

Rise you up sisters as survivors of the violence you make us so proud

Stop FGM in the UK Now - e-petitions epetitions.direct.gov.uk

Over 66,000 women in the UK have already undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) and more than 24,000 girls are at risk. FGM is a very British problem. Despite increased activities around FGM recently, it is not enough - we are still failing to stop the abuse. The multi-agency guidelines are not s...