“When I saw the knife to be used to perform female infibulation, a knife I inherited from my grandmother because my mother died young, I did it once and I understood why so many people say it’s not a good thing to do . There are very dangerous, harmful consequences. I’ve decided to quit forever.” Fatoumata Seydi is a young woman from Kolda, a town in southern Senegal, not far from the border with Guinea Bissau, one of the areas where the practice of female genital mutilation is still widespread. She was destined, like her grandmother and mother before her, to infibulate the girls and boys of her village and neighboring villages, it was up to her to continue the family tradition, for this reason the only instrument necessary for the ‘infibulation: the knife. It was enough to see him and prove himself, once, to say no to her family and refuse too heavy an inheritance. She alone, she understood the dangerousness of the practice and the risk for the non-existent hygienic conditions, she explained to her family what she had understood. “I explained to my family that it was not a good practice to do, I showed them the consequences, the risks of disease and the dangers faced by young girls who undergo the operation. They understood” she explains to us in the courtyard of her home where, today, she welcomes girls and boys in difficulty. At home, they understood and asked her to keep the knife, like a family heirloom. The same knife that her grandmother had used to infibulate her when she was still too young to remember. She shows it to us, she takes it from the chest where she keeps it wrapped in a cloth. “A knife that must never be used again, never again” she tells us again. Knives like this have been an instrument of torture in Senegal for millions of infibulated women between the ages of two and 12. Since 1999, a law has banned the practice in the country and yet, despite countless awareness campaigns, the phenomenon is still extremely widespread, especially in villages, in the most forgotten and rural areas.
Women who have rebelled against the practice
Hands tied, feet immobilized, girls and young girls undergo the removal of part of the female genital apparatus which is then stitched up leaving only a small hole and a trauma that can hardly be forgotten. To overcome it, to avoid it, women like Fatoumata are now in the front row, women who were the first to rebel against this practice. They talk to the younger ones, explain risks, dangers and above all the possibility of saying no. To be master of your body and your life. They are the sensitizers, women who speak to women to save them. Among the first to start this work of awareness is Kadiatou Boiro, a child bride at the age of 14. She found the strength to rebel against her sixty-year-old husband, and left. Since then, she has made her battle against female genital mutilation her battle, also supported by her second husband and her family. Since 2003 she has been traveling around villages and hospitals, she goes wherever they call her, she hosts girls and women in difficulty and, to all and all, she explains what happens to the body when infibulation is practiced, the risks one runs. We meet her in Kolda. “The girls I meet are happy to know, to understand things they don’t know. Everything that is not known, if explained, is understood and they are really happy about it. There are girls who come to me with the knife that has been handed down to them, they ask me and I explain it to them. Some stay at my house, they can study there, go to school. It is the elderly who push for this practice despite being explained that it is not a thing to do ”she says. After a while, she leaves us to join a mother and her two daughters who are waiting for her because they need her, her advice and her words. She helps to understand what genital mutilation is but also respect for one’s body and for one’s person, for one’s life.
Education as a weapon to eradicate the phenomenon
Education, education and knowledge are the weapons to eradicate a phenomenon that changes the lives of millions of women. And at work to help and save these women there are girls and boys, men and women engaged in awareness campaigns that they take around the villages, among the people. Babacar Sy is the coordinator of the Kolda youth center, where an Amref project is concerned with raising awareness among the youngest. “After infibulation there is a small hole where urine and the menstrual cycle pass. It’s a very complicated thing because most girls think they were born this way, because nobody explains to these girls what female circumcision is. A practice that is exercised to prevent girls from having a sexual life but which has very serious consequences, these girls do not know their anatomy ”he explains to us. “When a girl gets married she undergoes defibulation, that hole is opened and it is a second violence for them, once married they are forced to have sexual intercourse for a week after the operation to avoid scarring. These girls are in excruciating pain which they associate with their husband,” she adds. The sexual act first, then childbirth. Important traumas if not real torture for those who have undergone genital mutilation. Illnesses, impairments, psychological and sexual problems. For thousands of girls, even disability. Sally Radio was two years old when she had female circumcision, and she hasn’t walked well since. She learned what her mother had done to her, it was she who enforced respect for a tradition that is still firm in some areas. Over the years she has had three operations to try to walk well again, but without crutches she cannot move. Today, she is one of Amref’s ambassadors. “After the information I have received, today it is an obligation for me to make people aware of the risks of female circumcision because I am an example of what can happen with female circumcision, I cannot stay still and shut up”.
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