Featured Storyteller

KENYA: The Day I Was Cut

Sarah Sofia
Posted April 4, 2018 from Kenya
Photo © Reuters/Siegfried Modola

As a young girl, Sarah Sofia looked forward to the day she would be circumcised. When she entered high school, she learned the truth about the painful and unnecessary practice.

“Little did we know of the side effects of the whole procedure and its dangers to our health.

Editor's Note: This story includes a personal account of female genital mutilation. Some readers may find the details disturbing.

We waited anxiously for the long December holiday. It was the month when primary and high school students were off school and most cultural and community events took place. As young girls, we knew of the celebration to come and wanted to be a part of it. We wanted it to be our turn. We wanted to be cut.

Growing up, girls grouped themselves according to this particular occasion: those who had been cut, and those who had not.

In most communities in the area I grew up in in Kenya, female genital mutilation is not only seen as a rite of passage, but as a source of pride and identity. The practice ensures that a girl is socially accepted by community members.

As we prepared for the “big” day, we were so happy, but also anxious and afraid.

We wanted to experience the pride associated with the cutting/mutilation, and we wanted to be accepted. We wanted to be married to one of the men in our communities one day, and we wanted the kind of life where no one would talk or laugh at us behind our backs for being women who are still “children”. We wanted that thing that grows so long and hangs down in between our legs (as we were made to believe by older girls) to be cut.

So we talked with our mothers and made them plan which holiday we would attend and which group of girls we would be circumcised with. Most believe that parents force young girls to be mutilated, but the truth is much of the time girls force their parents to make such decisions because, from a young age, they are made to believe that circumcision is a must, that it is normal and good. We were made to believe that without it you would not get married or be a part of your community.

On the eventful day, we were cleaned. Our houses were cleaned, and a number of happy women neighbors filled our homes. The men were happy that we were going to transition to womanhood. Our innocent brothers were happy that there would be the slaughtering of a goat or two with plenty of meat. They stared at you with those begging eyes that said, “Please, don’t forget to share with me the meat, goodies, sweets, and delicious meal.”

The procedure is done without anesthesia. You are just cut. A piece of your body is just mutilated, and there is nothing done to prevent the bleeding. How painful! You are not allowed to scream, as screaming shows cowardice, and any girl who screams will be known by the whole village and all the young boys as a coward. She will be a shame to her mother. So, you are not allowed to see the razor blade or watch as the cutting is done.

We were young girls, made to squat on a stool facing the circumciser. Someone from behind covered our eyes and spread our legs wide apart. The process is different depending on the community, ranging from partial to total removal of the clitoris, piercing, or total mutilation of the female genitalia. All have serious effects on the body of a woman. Infections are common, as are complications during childbirth and impacts on a woman’s sexuality.

For a whole week, we were celebrated heroes. Every girls’ legs were tied together from hip to ankle. Walking and urinating was a problem. Our mothers kept applying traditional herbs to reduce the pain and enhance healing. We were happy about constantly receiving gifts. Little did we know of the side effects of the whole procedure and its dangers to our health.

As we grew old and progressed in school and gained knowledge, we came to learn that female genital mutilation has no benefit to girls or society. There is no medical reason for it, and its only aim is to endanger a woman’s health. After we joined high school and interacted with students from different communities, we discovered that the small organ in our genitalia does not grow long and protrude from our panties, as we were told.

We came to learn that uncircumcised girls are normal, doing well in their lives, getting married, and nothing seems to be wrong with them.

In school, when girls discuss FGM in class, the circumcised ones are filled with anxiety, and sometimes depressed. We are fearful of what the future might hold after marriage and when delivering. We feel out of place, and it’s hard to communicate to others, even when we have issues like infection in our genitalia. Menstruation days are amongst the toughest. The pain is sometimes unimaginable and unbearable.

Despite it all, we have survived. We pray and hope that one day—just some day—this whole practice will come to an end. We hope that one day, every girl will be happy and have all her body’s organs and nerves intact.


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe everyone has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

Comments 26

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  • Olutosin
    Apr 04
    Apr 04

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. Mine is not different, just that un those days, shells of a big Snail was the blade. Now we had a law that prohibits FGM in Nigeria, but some people still practice it.

    I did a documentary in January 2016 and travelled to a village where only pregnant women are mutilated. It's horrible. Also I witnessed in Ibadan where an old man used a traditional knife to cut all the girls present. It was on a slaughter table outside his compound.

    May every female be safe from harmful cultural practices. Amen

  • Jill Dulitsky
    Apr 04
    Apr 04

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. The history is so interesting and so different from what I've read. I appreciate you educating us about this practice and fighting to end it.

  • JulieG
    Apr 04
    Apr 04

    Thank you so much for the bravery you've shown telling your story. It's informative for us to understand the perspective of young girls and how they are made to feel in their community. I, like Olutosin, pray every female may one day be safe from this painful, harmful and unnecessary practice. I also hope girls may be saved from these harmful feelings of shame.

    Warmly,

  • Immaculate
    Apr 04
    Apr 04

    Sarah,

    Thanks for sharing, I have interacted with friends who have undergone the cut, reading your story and breaks my heart. All hope is not lost, iy is in speaking up that change occurs, our younger sisters and daughters will not go through the same.

    When women like you are speaking up and want the best for them, your resilience and that of others will break the cycle of the cut.

    Cheers

    Immah

  • Nakinti
    Apr 05
    Apr 05

    Dear Sarah Sofia,

    This story is so hard to read -- I found myself grabbing the chair so hard as if I was the one being cut. Dear, you are a strong woman, one who has been able to tell the story the way it is. I admire your courage and determination to see this practice come to an end. I can imagine the brainwashing that took place to make you all believe that the clit will grow to hang in between your legs. How sad! One thing makes me happy -- the fact that many governments and communities are denouncing the practice. I am looking forward to you standing against this practice by sharing your experience. Stand for change, be a changemaker!!! Say it loud. Break the silence. Fight it.

    Thank you, dear sister, for sharing your story. I am proud of you.

    One love
    Nakinti

  • jlanghus
    Apr 05
    Apr 05

    Hi Sarah. Thanks again for sharing your vulnerable tale and for being so strong. Congrats on winning the story award, too!!!

  • Sister Zeph
    Apr 05
    Apr 05

    Dear Sarah thank you to share this story of you , I have to share it to my students in school so that they can know how their fellow sisters are facing difficulties of life in the world and that we have to work together as sisters to up lift each other, thank God you are fine, bless you and your stories is another proof that education can bring a true change because with education we know the realities

  • Pedmia Shatu Tita
    Apr 06
    Apr 06

    wow quite interesting i enjoyed the story and jut to remark that for those who still practice this hit is time to move away from that practice. it is unhealthy i wasn't circumcised and my clitoris has never grown out of my pant.

  • Aysh Khan
    Apr 06
    Apr 06

    I am trying to read this story since yesterday but can not.. Its so hard to read it complete.. After reading 50 %, I felt my heart will start bleeding and my blood pressure started to low as imagination was in my mind of this process. I just Can't gather that Courage to read it completely.. :(

  • Tamarack Verrall
    Apr 07
    Apr 07

    Dear Sarah,

    By telling your story, from your own life, the ways that girls with natural eagerness to embrace adulthood are being manipulated into wanting this is outlined so well for understanding and working for change. It is by your courage to speak out from such personal perspective, that we can stand together to say that every form of painful act against women and girls needs to end, and that we are supporting each other, sharing information, linking arms and joining hearts within WorldPulse, to end cutting everywhere.

    With love in sisterhood,
    Tam

  • Amani K
    Apr 08
    Apr 08

    Sarah, THANK YOU for the courage to share your story. Someday, these kinds of things meant to endanger women's lives will end. That is: 'when we women wake up, regain our courage to speak our truth, like you have done, so that young girls know the truth. Only the truth can set us free!' Karambu

  • Ndimofor  Aretas
    Apr 08
    Apr 08

    Dear Sarah,
    Thanks for your detailed recount of the FGM procedure. I often only heard about it and had no idea of the procedure.

    I'm not sure I can really imagine how painful the procedure and holding in the pain makes it even worse.

    You are really strong to have endured that. I will share your story with my community to contribute to stopping such a dangerous practice!

  • Evelyn Fonkem
    Apr 09
    Apr 09

    Thank you for sharing. Femailed genital mutilation is a canker worm that prevents women and girls to reach their full potentials.It also has many negative health effects on the survivors. Zero Tolerance to FGM

  • Lily Habesha
    Apr 10
    Apr 10

    Dear Sister,
    OH! I read your post with fear, my face...and my spirit troubled. I've been to your place, just the in capital city and some villages, never heard about FGM.
    In Ethiopia, they do circumcision until few years back both for boy and girl child. Boy must be 7 days old. i think it's also same for girls.
    i don't know what kind of heart those people have, who cut an infant's body with a razor blade.

    About the shaming, it's better when you don't know anything. But in your place, you are young girls, and they do it when you are teenager, right? i found it too embarrassing.
    I don't support any of the acts at any age.

    They have to stop it.
    Even if our government trying to stop this actions, there are people who wants to do it illegally.

    thank you for sharing.

    Lily

  • Anjana Vaidya
    Apr 11
    Apr 11

    Dear Sarah,
    So sorry to hear about this painful insane practice you have undergone. Still, I am having goosebumps and feeling anger. There are lots of harmful practices, that makes girl and women more vulnerable to their health. Thank you for sharing and speaking up on this. We have to make our voice louder to condemn these kinds of things from ourselves and have to work at our level best.
    Best regards,
    Anjana

  • Meseret Haileyesus
    Apr 13
    Apr 13

    Thanks for sharing! its sad to hear that according to World Health Organization estimates that 140-million women and girls around the world have experienced female genital mutilation...

  • OakTrillium
    Apr 13
    Apr 13

    Thank you for your courage and truth telling, I am honoured to bear witness.

  • Suh Diviner
    Apr 15
    Apr 15

    Wow so touching.
    I hope and pray that such acts be aborted in our society and community . Our nation needs healthy and pysycologically fit women to stand for woman emancipation.
    I love your story

  • Veronica  Ngum Ndi
    Apr 15
    Apr 15

    Thanks so much Sarah. Your story is so educative. FGM is not practice in my community. Is so sad to see how young women are exposed to so much danger.
    You are great.
    Congratulations
    Love
    Veronica

  • Gladys Muthara
    Apr 18
    Apr 18

    Wow Sarah! Thank you so much for being so brave to tell your story, that others may hear and learn about the horrors of FGM from one who has experienced it. From deep down in my heart, I really appreciate you, because I have gained deep insights I would never have gained but for reading your story. May your strong voice stand for millions of other girls who have to endure FGM horrors across the world. With Love, Hope & Light.

  • Shofali Agarwal
    Apr 18
    Apr 18

    Sarah, thank you for your bravery and sharing your story with the world. You make it clear that this practice is desired by girls because they are misinformed. If reading such stories and talking about it with young girls helps eradicate such a violent practice, then you have just taken the first step in a war that women everywhere need to band together to win.

  • Juliet Acom
    Apr 23
    Apr 23

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for sharing your story about this painful ordeal. I remember when i was in high school, a student from the Mt. Elgon region of Uganda joined us and was shocked to learn that this was not common practice for all tribes. She was proud of having been circumcised and called us "you children". Because of this nobody wanted to associate with her, your story makes me wonder if she was always lonely because of our rejection and just put on a strong front yet she was bleeding inside. so sad.

    Thanks for enlightening us, you are a great woman.

    God bless you

  • Elvire
    Apr 24
    Apr 24

    Thanks, dear,
    for sharing.
    Thanks for the details; it takes a lot of courage to give such a description. I commend you for that.
    What happens is really awful, but it is good to know.

    That is a good fight; things will change, it will stop.
    Press on,

  • Apr 24
    Apr 24

    This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
  • Karen Quiñones-Axalan
    Yesterday
    Yesterday

    Hello, Sarah. I am so happy that you've been awarded as a Featured Storyteller. Congratulations!

    I said it before, and I'll say it again, it is because of you that I have found the courage to watch the Desert Flower.

    Thank you for sharing your truth. It is an eye-opener. I hope this practice will be stopped. May all girls be spared.