Mariam (not her real name) is from West Africa, she is among the million of women who have undergo FGM/C in Africa. In this International Day against Female Genitale Mutilation, Mariam has decided to share her story with us in the hope that it will stop people from perfroming this horrible practice on young African women. The 6th Feb. has been designated by the United Nations to raise awareness amongst the general public about this traditional practice which severely violates the human rights of women and girls.
In the 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East where female genital mutilation/cutting is performed, some 130 million women and girls have been affected. In addition to causing severe pain, FGM can result in prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and death. The practice is still widespread in spite of a global commitment following the 2002 UN Special Session on Children to end FGM by 2010.
How old where you when you were cut?
I was just 5 years-old when I went through FGM/C. The all thing happened when I was on holiday with my sisters to visit my uncle in the capital.
How and where did it happen?
I was so excited when my mum told that I was going on holiday with my sisters to visit my uncle in the capital but I had to get a great mark at school in order for me to go. It was my first time that I was allowed to go in the capital on holiday and I guess you could imagine my excitement.
On the day of the trip in the summer holiday my sisters and I were all packed and ready to go. Until then, I would go days without sleeping just thinking about my summer holiday in the capital.
I didn't know that my first summer holiday will be the worst holiday ever. One week after our arrival, my uncle’s driver was meant to take us to the playground with my cousins and my aunt. On our way to the playground, the driver stopped in a health centre. I said to my aunt ‘this doesn't look like the playground’ and I asked why we are stopping at a health centre. My aunt told me that we were going to visit a sick relative and that it won't take too much time.
We stopped in front of an office and a lady wearing a white blouse came out to greet us and asked my aunt to come in. After 10 minutes, my aunt came out and asked me to come with her first before the other girls, which I found later was because I was the youngest one and it always starts with the youngest girl first. When I walked in, I saw my two aunts standing there, and I was thinking why are these two here and why do they look so sad. I was asked by the nurse to come on the table and that she is going to just touch me down there and to see if everything is OK and that it would not hurt at all. I looked at my aunts and they told me to do what the nurse said. I jumped on the table and the next thing I knew was that my aunt had her arms around my eyes and my mouth to stop me from seeing anything and screaming.
I could feel a pain like someone was cutting a part of my body and it hurt so much. In my screams, I was asking the nurse why she is doing this to me; I have been a good girl so why are you cutting me? I told her that I wanted to see my mum and my dad and that if my mum was here she wouldn't have let her hurt me so badly. While listening to what I was saying, all my aunts had tears in their eyes and they were all trying to hide their faces but it was too obvious. As I was getting down of the table screaming and crying, my aunt told me that she is very sorry but all girls have to go through it at some point in their lives. I looked at her and said right to her face that I wished she could have waited the next time I came to see her because this was my first holiday and I wanted to enjoy myself without spending my holiday in pain.
Back home, my uncle was very upset at my aunts and asked them why they did it. He then had to call my mum to tell her the news. Days before my mum arrived, I wouldn't eat or play with anyone; I spent my time crying.
I never went back to visit my uncle again and I don't think I will ever forget my aunt for what she did to me.
What is your message to parents who are planning to cut their daughters?
FGM is a bigger issue than what people think. I always read reports and news that tell of some villages where women said that they have stopped cutting their daughters. The truth is they haven’t stopped. They say it to please the international community or the UN,... but FGM is so much a part of our culture in Africa that I don't see any end to it. One of the ways of ending it, it think, would be perhaps to show the consequences on the victim’s life. Perhaps after that, our mothers, aunts, grandmother would understand how much pain they are causing us.
What does your life look like 23 years later?
23 years later, the cutting still has a disastrous effect on my life. I got married 2 years ago and I always have to fight with myself when it comes to sex with my husband. Since that day, I never let anyone touched me down there and that was one of the reasons that I was still virgin when I got married at 26 years old. I am a good looking woman but my whole life I just pushed back all the guys that wanted to go out with me.
I always try to find excuses for not having sex with my husband because of the pain I still have since the cutting. I don't know how long my marriage is going to last if I keep on avoiding my husband. The question is: although I love my husband more than anything else, should I keep on suffering while having sex or shall I just avoid him? I don't know the answer to this question but there is one thing that I am sure about, my life will never be the same again. They destroyed my life without asking and without knowing the consequences of their acts. I may end up without husband and without children because of what they did to me.
"Will I have a normal life again, the answer is NO. By cutting that part of me, they remove something that I will never be able to get back again"