CARE’s Assistant Gender Officer in Kenya, Fardosa Muse, describes her efforts to discover more about the practice of Female Genital Mutilation.
The Somali community is one of the groups which practices Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on a large scale in Kenya. FGM is done for religious reasons, often without a girl’s consent, to curb their sexual desire and to preserve their sexual honour before marriage.
FGM is irreversible and extremely painful, but it is deeply rooted in social, cultural, and traditional practices, and therefore difficult to combat. Attempts have been made by international and local groups to stop the practice, but FGM is ingrained in peoples’ beliefs and traditions. In an effort to explore FGM, I traveled into the Dadaab refugee camps.
During a discussion with a senior ex-circumciser, a girl was brought for circumcision by her immediate family members. I tried to ask the girl about her situation, but the relatives intervened when they realised I was a gender officer working with CARE International in Kenya. The mother of the girl pleaded with me to leave for fear of victimisation and notification of law enforcement officials.
I asked the mother of the girl how safe her daughter was from infection and other complications that arise from FGM. She responded that it’s a historical practice and that they have never had any problems related to it. I explained that many women have died from complications due to FGM, causing untold grief to their loved ones.
Later, on my way back to the office, in the adjacent blocks, I came across a group of women and girls weaving baskets. I asked to speak with them, and presented my personal story as a victim of FGM to bring up the topic.
As we were speaking, Halima, a 24-year-old mother of two, passed by, joined us, and told of her experience with FGM: “I have been in pain ever since and keep attending hospital with back pain and kidney problems. There is no single night I have gone to bed with comfort, unable to put my feet to the ground because of fistula operations. I have been subjected to this outdated practice due to strong belief of my grandmother on FGM.”
Halima’s story moved me to tears. I could only entreat her not to allow such a gruesome act to be performed on her own children in the future. In fact, Halima’s father saw circumcision as unacceptable, but he was overruled and deemed disrespectful to his mother in-law.
"The dispute almost led to our family breakdown. It was only saved when elders forced my father to apologise to my grandmother in accordance with the Somali culture, and warned him not to meddle in 'women affairs.’ I had no idea that it was such a horrible and traumatising process. It still lingers in my mind today. I shed tears when remember how I had to drop out of school due to incontinence, pain, trauma and low self-esteem from with FGM."