From Victim to Advocate: Breaking the Cycle of FGM

It’s early morning in the village where Batula and her parents live, and as is the norm, everyone is woken up by the call for prayer. As early as thirty minutes past seven, her grandmother shows up carrying concoctions and some herbs. Batula asks her grandmother what those things are used for: “This will help you heal faster after transforming you into a woman”. This is a seven-year-old girl who is supposed to be playing but something horrendous is about to happen to her.

For decades, thousands of women have perpetrated, perpetuated, and been punished by female genital mutilation. When Batula witnessed young females, between the ages of 7 and 15, bursting into their home with their parents, she became perplexed. All of these girls will be subjected to this gruesome activity. The fact that it happens to a child makes it one of the worst nightmares that any woman may experience.

Besides the horrendous pain that Batula will go through, her emotional and mental health will also be damaged. She could even develop mental health issues such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a condition many victims of FGM experience and which is characterized by a distressing obsession with flaws in one’s appearance, leading to excessive self-criticism and lack of self-esteem.

When the moment arrives the circumciser asks Batula “Open your legs young girl” Tears cascading her soft cheeks, not understanding what they are doing to her. She tries to escape but she is held by two ladies, her mother and her aunt. Each holding one of her feeble legs. Batula retaliates until they put a piece of cloth in her mouth to stop her from screaming. She faces the knife, and an important part of her body is now among the trash that the stray cats look out for. The same process is repeated for up to 10 young girls, some of them willing because of the lectures given by their older aunts and their mothers about the matter.

Mental health is one of the crucial topics of our generation and is, in fact, one area that should be given greater attention. Batula’s community does not recognize mental health at all. According to them, depression does not exist. One can literally be at their lowest, and one of their own family members would comfortably say “She has demons”. “She is possessed”. This is one of the things FGM does to a young girl. It destroys her mental health as well, and it kills her will to exist on this earth. At her age, Batula is supposed to be enjoying her childhood just as normal children in the world do, but sadly, that is not the case for many young girls like her, who are forced to “act like women” at that age. “Sit upright, aren’t you a girl?” is one of the constant phrases you are likely to hear in such a household.

A few years later another ordeal befalls Batula, she is defiled by her uncle at the age of 10 in their own home and the issue is solved by a group of elderly men. This is known as “maslaha” and is the main perpetrator of the crimes committed against girls in Batula’s community. In her community crimes such as defilement and rape are not taken to court because they believe that such issues will bring shame to the community, they, therefore, invite the elders of the community, and money is paid by the perpetrator of the crime or they marry off the victim to the perpetrator and in Batula’s case the council of elders decided to marry her off to the perpetrator of the crime when she becomes older.

With this kind of unstable mind, Batula will turn 15, and she will be “ready” to get married off to one of the uncles who defiled her at the age of 10. At the age of 15, she is forced into marriage, and worse, she is married to someone who committed a crime against her. She is now forced to coexist with someone who wronged her, and society makes this feel right. Batula’s childhood has been snatched from her, and as if that was not enough, she will now spend her teenage years as a wife to a man three times her age. At that tender age, she is obligated to act as a wife and to cater to ‘wifely duties’. At the age of 17, Batula most probably will become a mother; she is supposed to take care of children, and because Batula is not aware of the crimes committed against her due to a lack of education, her children would go through the same path of life.

Education is the solution. It is the only tool that can demystify such destructive cultural habits. Education that will prioritize the younger generation, particularly young girls like Batula. With education, Batula would be able to understand the distinction between religion and culture, she would be aware of her rights as a girl, and contribute to change by promoting education in the children she raises.  

I am a survivor of Female Genital Mutilation and I believe if my parents went to school and were educated this could have been prevented. I had the opportunity to go to school and learn a lot and with that, I am not taking this gruesome activity to my generation. As a young girl who grew up in a marginalized community education has changed how I see things and would advocate for education for young girls like Batula. Educating young girls like Batula could save a whole generation from the FGM pandemic.

By: Ikran (Young Kenyan Advocate for Child Rights)

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