Meet 60-year-old Alhaja Adegboku Iyabo (pictured right), the Iyaloja (Chief and Market Women Leader) of Atakunmosa Local Government Authority in Osogbo, Osun State, South Western Nigeria. When Alhaja was born, her mother, Afusatu Alake Sumonu, had already suffered the loss of two daughters due to complications arising from female genital mutilation (FGM), which she had undergone when she was young.
Afusatu was told a common myth about FGM: that if an uncut clitoris touches the baby’s head during childbirth, the baby would die. Her intention for the daughters she loved was to raise them the best way she knew how: by upholding their culture. Unfortunately, she lost her two daughters shortly after undergoing a very painful birthing period. For FGM survivors like Afusatu, this excruciating labour experience can even be life threatening. The deaths of her daughters were as a result of childbirth complications brought on by the FGM that she had from childhood. For Afusatu, the loss of her daughters so soon after birth was devastating. The painful memory still lingers even decades later.
After this experience, she decided to stop having her daughters cut. Alhaja became the first daughter who did not undergo FGM. Afusatu did not want her daughter to have the same traumatic birthing experience that she had endured. Alhaja is currently the Chief and Market Women Leader, a very influential position in the community, representing many market women in the Chief’s council. During a capacity-building forum for 50 key stakeholders organised by community organisation Justice, Development and Peace Makers Centre (JDPMC) and funded by The Girl Generation End FGM Grassroots Fund, she shared her story about how she did not undergo FGM and has given birth to her own children, who are grown and married too, contrary to the myth that a baby would die if an uncut clitoris touched their head. This story was not only rare, coming from a woman holding such a position, but was also very inspiring and brave.
Alhaja is now a champion in her community and her story serves to inspire more dialogue and action towards ending FGM. JDPMC has organised more forums within Alhaja’s community involving different stakeholders including traditional rulers, youths and school children among others. A student called to thank them, after taking part in a sensitization activity in their school. She reported that this activity had given her courage to say no to her parents as they were readying her for undergoing FGM. Such evidence of changing norms is now becoming more visible in this community, and provides us with optimism that FGM can end in a generation.