Young mothers becoming activists to protect their daughters, cutters giving up their trade, and community leaders denouncing FGM – these are just some of the positive stories of change we hear from our End FGM grantees.
This week, we share some of these stories with you in a series of blog posts.
The Society for the Protection of Rural People (SIRP) is a civil society organisation working in Enugu State of Nigeria. With their end FGM grant they organised a community dialogue project about ending FGM, to enable members of the community to discuss long-taboo topics in a safe environment.
Here, we share the impact of the project from three different perspectives – a young mother turned activist, a traditional circumciser and an older male community member.
‘I will dedicate my life from now on to make sure that FGM is stopped completely in Awgu’ by Christiana Okeke, 36
Christiana Okeke is a 36-year-old woman from the Awgu community in Enugu State of Nigeria. She talks about how her views of FGM have changed through The Girl Generation funded FGM project in her community:
Before I took part in this FGM project in my community Awgu in Enugu State of Nigeria I had always seen FGM as a way of life for any young girl in the community. We were told, or rather, indoctrinated overtime, that if as a girl you were not ‘cut’ then you are ‘unclean’, not deserving of a decent marriage and acceptability in the society.
When I attended the Society for the Improvement of Rural People (SIRP) project, I was in the inter-generational dialogue session for young women. I was one of the participants in our group that was very vehement and vocal opposing our facilitator, Evelyn, asking her to allow us live as we had always lived, circumcising our daughters to enable them not be wayward and promiscuous later in life.
However, after watching the video clip of Sarah (a young Kenyan girl), I was truly touched.
Her experiences replicated my own experience as a young girl. My first childbirth experience was traumatic. There was series of complications that I actually lost my first baby. My second child was born through a caesarean operation.
The most emotional moment watching the film was seeing the humiliation and inconsiderate attitude shown by the midwife who attended to Sarah on her second pregnancy. This scenario of rejection and stigmatisation brought back my memories of my experience during my first pregnancy with a health attendant in Awgu General Hospital. She reprimanded me and said my difficulty in having to deliver smoothly was because I was ‘cut’. She was so off hand and gave no consideration to my feelings.
For us in Awgu community, FGM is our daily experience.
"From the day the young girl is ‘circumcised’, to when she had her first period, to when she was given out in marriage (most times the man is not her choice), to when she had her first baby and subsequently, FGM is always a part of everything, a wound that stays with the woman throughout her life.
As a result of this project I will dedicate my life from now on to make sure that FGM is stopped completely in Awgu.
I will use the skills I have learnt in Social Change Communication to convince more members of the Awgu community to stop practicing FGM. I will use dialogue as a principal skill to share with members of my family information regarding the disrespect to the dignity of the girl child as a result of the FGM practice. I will listen to their position and empathetically feel for them, but in a very understanding tone with respect, share with them information, drawing from the Bible, our constitution and the recent child rights Law (Enugu State, 2016) that criminalises FGM.
No doubt there will be ‘persecution’ by friends and family members because of this new conviction to be part of this campaign to End FGM.‘I will not be deterred. We are forming a local support group for those of us now committed to this campaign, and we work closely with SIRP for support and encouragement.’
This project is a God-send for I am now truly ‘born again’, and never again would I encourage any of my relations and friends to continue with the practice of FGM. Thanks to The Girl Generation for their support.
A traditional circumciser speaks out – ‘What will happen to me and my vocation?’ by Okoye Edaline, 40.
Okoye Edaline is a traditional Birth Attendant who attended SIRP's sensitisation project. She shares her story of change.
For me, circumcision of girls is an age long tradition of our people; and it’s intended to save them from being promiscuous and enhance their prospect for a ‘good’ marriage. I’ve always believed that the practice should be sustained.
I attended a sensitisation training held by SIRP where different types of FGM were discussed and explained. I heard them say that FGM is a form of violence against women. I asked a lot of questions and received clarification.
As a TBA, my source of livelihood is “circumcising” young girls in the community - what will happen to me and my vocation? If I now stop this ‘business’ of mine in view of the new exposure and training I am receiving under this project, what will happen? I now feel really guilty about my trade of circumcising girls.
The facilitator assured me that there are a lot of vocational skills I could engage in (farming, bees keeping, etc.) that would give me adequate income and yet save me from the perpetual guilt I am experiencing on each girl I ‘cut’.
There was one moment where a girl who was ‘cut’ gave a graphic illustration of her experiences as a young house wife, including the lack of sexual fulfilment within her matrimonial home, her sense of frigidity during sexual intercourse, painful menstruation and her difficulty during childbirth and consequent caesarean operation to bring out her baby boy, named Okwudili (May God Decide). I was almost in tears and filled with guilt.
I resolved to never again be a ‘circumciser’… I have volunteered my time and my God given talent to talk about FGM and its challenges to the health, dignity and rights of the girl child with a view to seeing an FGM free Awgu Society in my time.’
Beyond that I am going to organise a sensitisation meeting with my TBA colleagues throughout the community to share with them the new understanding I have gained. I have no doubt a good many of the TBAs would join me in this my new ‘discovery’ and be part of the new campaign to end FGM in Awgu.
‘I felt touched and guilty!’ by Mr.Patric Ekwe, 63, Community Member
Before the SIRP project, my knowledge of FGM was very limited, deeply rooted in cultural and superstitious beliefs. For instance, I believed that if a girl was not circumcised, she was going to be promiscuous, wayward and wouldn’t make a good wife.
But all these beliefs are now changed.
I was in the group for elderly men. There was respect for generational differences in our varying perceptions about and around FGM practice in our community.
I was pleased that groups were divided according to their ages and sexes as this facilitated a free flow of interactions without inhabitation and fear of being insulted by young ones.
Initially, I was a key proponent for the maintenance of the practice of FGM as one of the legacies laid down by our fore fathers. But with the facilitator’s humble disposition and listening skills, coupled with question and answer session for clarification, I have been ‘converted’ into becoming an ‘apostle’ for the campaign to end FGM in Odume community.
I have been converted into becoming an apostle for the campaign to end FGM in my community.
I was particularly touched by the comments from Mercy, one of the young girls who spoke during the plenary, who said: “Sometimes I feel that my parents do not love me as they claim. Otherwise, how could they be so wicked and callous as to inflict this pain which I endure very month during my period in the name of culture? I will resist the practice with the last pint of my blood for anyone to dare to ‘cut’ my baby girl when I have my own child. Culture my foot!.”
I decided that day not to have anything to do with FGM practice in the community.
I felt touched and guilty that as a father and grandfather who claim to love my girl children, that I, in the name of culture would inflict horrendous pains on them. What a contradiction! I took a decision to utilise my position as one of the members of Igwe’s cabinet to champion the cause of ending the practice of FGM in Odume.
Change is the only thing constant in our human society. Somebody will initiate the action to stop it, and that person is me, no matter the sacrifice that would entail.