World Pulse

SIERRA LEONE: Victory Comes with Great Determination

Mkandeh
Posted April 21, 2016 from United Kingdom

When Mariama Kandeh was a young girl, she never questioned her parents or culture. But when she began to think more about female genital mutilation, she made up her mind: It was time to speak out against harmful traditional practices.

By Mariama Kandeh

Mkandeh | UK

Growing up, I was meant to believe everything I was told. A questioning attitude is considered a grave disobedience in Sierra Leone.

I wanted to be a good child, so when my mother and aunties told me that female circumcision is what’s best for girls and women, I believed them. I even imagined how one day I would have my own daughter and I would have her circumcised.

In my country, raising your voice against circumcision is a grave sin, one that can result in punishment from God. The practice is considered a “Sunnah”, as it is reported to have been practiced during the days of the Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him). Challenging female genital cutting is equivalent to challenging the very reason for existence. It is challenging our culture, our traditions.

My mother strongly believes in female circumcision and that held me back from protesting. My mother: a lovely woman who gave me nothing but genuine love. How was I going to challenge her ideas about female genital cutting? How could I challenge what was supposed to be my own belief system?

The pressure to go along with the practice was intense, but I had a growing feeling that I needed to work against it. I turned to a female journalists’ association that I am a part of. They were getting ready to commemorate the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM on February 6 with a series of media pieces about the harms of the practice. I offered to write an opinion piece.

When I told my mother I had written a piece about the female genital cutting initiating groups called “Bondo Society”, she was not happy. The article was due to be published in a few days and my mother said few words.

“It is our culture, and I don’t expect you to speak up against it,” she said.

I smiled at her and said as mildly as I could, “Things change, Mama. You can’t tell me things are the same today as they were during your time. Every day you remind us about how lucky we are to be born in Freetown and at this time. Similarly, FGM belongs to the past. We are moving forward.”

Mama didn't reply instantly. Taking a spoonful of the rice and cassava leaf she was eating, she looked at me like I was the tiny baby she remembered delivering and said, “You are going to have it hard with the 'Soweis' (FGM initiators). I am only warning you to be careful. You are still a small girl.”

I didn't say a word again. My mind was made up.

My article was published.

Since then, I have been writing about other issues affecting women that are under reported in the media. I am no longer worried about upholding a belief that is detrimental to humanity.

Discussing female circumcision is always a perilous path to tread in the Sierra Leone community. The majority of people do not see what is wrong with the practice, even as young girls continue to suffer. Challenging FGM in public could lead to abuse from members of the public who sometimes think the campaigner may have either been brainwashed by foreigners or paid to destroy our 'almighty culture'. I have experienced that many times. But that has not, and will not, deter me.

Through this experience, I have learned that the things everyone seems to believe in are not necessarily the right things to believe in. I learned to speak my truth quietly but clearly and with a strong conviction. I started to question other things I had believed in in the past.

Personally, for me to have opened up discussion on female circumcision and to have openly made my stance clear was real empowerment.

I feel liberated. It is the beginning of a new era in my life.


TAKE ACTION

This story is part of theTransforming the World from the Inside OutDigital Action Campaign.Read submissions from around the world»

Comments 6

Log in or register to post comments
Paolo Patruno
Apr 22, 2016
Apr 22, 2016

Hi Mariama,

thanks for sharing this great piece. 

How do you see possible solution for changing tradition for FGM ? How do you see new generations might work to move forward ?

Thanks, Paolo

Mkandeh
Apr 22, 2016
Apr 22, 2016

Hi Paolo? Thanks for your comments. Possible solutions will involve empowering and inspiring Mothers and Grandmothers (they are key in perpetuating FGM) through education and sensitisation to change mindsets in their communities. New generations could champion awareness raising. I must say mindsets are changing among younger women and girls because of education. That's an opportunity we can tap on to reach out to older women particularly in the provinces. One big challenge is politicians using the practice to get votes. Yet I believe change is possible.

Paolo Patruno
Apr 23, 2016
Apr 23, 2016

Thanks for your reply. I agree, we need to empower new educated generations to make the change. change is necessary!

Celine
Apr 26, 2016
Apr 26, 2016

Hi Mariama! Thanks for this insightful writing on FGM.

Glad that times are changing and women can now rise up to speak with one voice against cultural practices that are harmful to us. Unlike in the past, African women and girls can now openly discuss on issues that were hitherto perceived as 'taboo' and 'no-go-areas.' Together we keep educating and empower ourselves for a better world for women in Africa and around the world.

Cheers,

Celine 

Mkandeh
Apr 28, 2016
Apr 28, 2016

Hi Celine, Thanks for your worthy comments. Indeee things are changing and there's light at the end of the road. Together we are making the necessary difference. Thanks again Mariama

Gladys111
May 18, 2017
May 18, 2017

Hi Mariama,

Thank you for sharing this meaningful story. I agree with you a lot of things are changing by the time and we need to look forward. Sometimes we need to voice up for those that we think need to be changed.

The first step is always hard but let's look forward.

Cheers, Gladys111