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.
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