In this edition of women and development we will highlight voices against female genital mutilation. Even though the bill criminalizing FGM was passed, there is still a lot of work ahead that needs to be tackled by anti-FGM campaigners. The two activists that spoke to Foroyaa on the pain and suffering that women undergo and the impact on their health understand this too well.
Ms. Lisa Camara, the Guardian Global media Campaign Coordinator in Gambia has stated that she believes that FGM is traditional and it affects the health of women and girls. Lisa, a survivor who recalls the negative impact of blade, wants to protect other children who are yet to feel the unfriendly role the blade plays.
She strongly believes that the survivors have to speak out to influence public opinion on matter. “My office wants to work with media personnel to amplify the voice of the survivors to speak against the act so that people would end FGM in a generation,” she emphasized.
Ms. Lisa stated that the fight is yet to end because many people should get to know how and why they should stay away from FGM, more sensitization is needed to avoid a clash with the Law. Ms. Lisa Camara does not underrate the power of the media. The Guardian Media Coordinator to end FGM said before the law takes its cause the noble role of the media is pivotal, “that is, informing the masses”.
“We had organized a media academy for media practitioners and activists, because we believe in the power of the media and their capabilities”.
Ms. Camara stated that they are working with media practitioners, both print and electronic.
In her passionate appeal to female journalists, the Guardian media coordinator stated that women journalists should play a proactive role in ending this age old tradition in the country. She calls them mothers, sisters and wives who should make sure that the information reaches every corner and they would be able to protect their children.
She revealed that this year they would be bringing religious leaders together to clear the cloud that FGM is a religious injunction.
Lisa herself, a survivor, has agreed to that FGM is harmful, she stated that she knows what FGM is all about; she also knows what child birth is all about.
Mrs. Mary Small, the Senior Programme Coordinator of GAMCOTRAP, a trained health midwife who has been assisting women to give birth for more than 30 years in various health facilities including the country’s only teaching hospital also narrated challenges they will still face even after the passing of the Bill.
She noted that girls suffer physiological trauma, because the girl child is deceived by her parent or guardian to go through FGM. She argued that this shows that she is not prepared to be cut, you could feel her heart beating very fast because she was not told the reality that she is going to be cut. Mary revealed that, that will have a negative impact on her mental well being. “She is being cut, she is left in the hands of people that she did not have close rapport with,” which is another frightening situation for this particular child.
“Now that they are subjecting babies to female genital mutilation you will find out that the passage of training is no more,” she explained.
In the past, teenagers are blind folded when performing the procedure on them, so that they would not know who is cutting them. For people who grow kiloid on their vagina they do not want anybody to see their private parts. These are the women the society refers to the as evil spirits. For example if a woman is sealed, she never has pleasure that very night. She has to go through the process of unsealing the scar. She has to go through another painful ordeal that she will not forget. “The man and woman all will be recalling what happened until we could not consummate our marriage,” she narrated. She stated that, that is another trauma and psychological effects those brides and grooms suffer.
Psychological problems are not limited to couples but the parents of both sides especially on the man’s side. Mary noted that the society also has a role to play in the affirming the beliefs of the tradition
She described how painful the ordeal of the survivor would be “for a full grown woman to open her legs and reopen the sealed part so that she can have sex”.
Mrs. Small said the consummation of sexual intercourse is an issue; she recalls a memory of a young woman who told her “that she is afraid of night because of what happened to her during her first day of marriage that they had to open her sealed part”.
She recalls “whilst I was attending another woman, who had three children told me that” she is afraid of the blade any time she recalls FGM. “I could feel blade going into my body” was what the woman told her. These are all effects that people are living with.
A psycological impact is especially evident in the rural areas. They call you all sorts of names because the man cannot penetrate the seal bride. That is why as traditional birth attendants they are told not to deliver women of their first child at home, not to take the woman in pain to health facilities.
A pregnant woman in pain should deliver during the first six hours, but due to the fact the person went through female genital mutilation she would have to go through another ordeal.
Mary therefore sees the need to continue with the sensitization campaign as parents and relatives can still hide and continue this deep rooted traditional practice which will harm their health.
Mrs Mary Small discussing with fellow activists; Pic: Sarjo Camara
Mrs. Amie Sillah- Sarr noted that FGM does not only pose health hazards but also keeps on dividing communities by labelling poor, vulnerable women of the communities as witches especially when they are forcefully given concoctions of hallucinogenic properties and threatened to confess committing atrocities on people (victims) . The State has to strengthen its Health Care System to address the medical/health needs of survivors. The awareness campaign must also continue even after the passing of the Bill.