Inside Garissa's FGM huts

Why we are saying no to FGM-Garissa Women

Msichana anakatwa kila kitu mpaka chini (The circumciser chops off everything in the girl’s genitalia)” explains Maka Kassim, the chairlady of Sauti ya Wamama, a women rights advocacy group in Kamuthe, Garissa and a survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM).

We are now entering August, a month that will see the local women in Kamuthe literary sharpen their razor blades in preparation for FGM on their young girls. The rite of passage targets girls as young as five years. Kassim says they prefer August because it a cold month and in such weather conditions, the bleeding from the cut is less.

Garissa Women fight against FGM

Garissa Women fight against FGM

Kassim, who is now championing against FGM explains: “With no sedatives, the girl is ambushed into the exercise which takes upto about 20 minutes. The healing process, however, can take upto three months, depending on the side effects of the cut. Although the culture does not allow the mother to perform FGM on her daughters, Kassim explains that the mother is always there. “You cannot be cut by your own mother. But three to four women perform the exercise as it involves a lot,” she explains.

Women group championing war against FGM

Women group championing war against FGM

Inside the main family house referred to as Herio locally, the girl is brought in and tightly tied from the toes to the mid thighs using a cotton strand. The piece of cloth is visibly torn from an old dirty piece if cloth. The minor cries helplessly but back in her mind she knows that she has to undergo what her mothers, aunties and sisters have endured. How else will she prove that she is a strong woman anyway?

All this time, the circumciser, locally known as Sang’oley, is finalising on the herbal concoction that comprises a raw egg, black soot, tea leaves and Malmal (a popular Somali herb).

Using a razor blade, the circumciser chops off the minor’s genitalia, leaving only a space for her to pass urine. Immediately, she applies the sticky concoction on the bleeding wound after placing two pieces of wood in the place of the external genitalia. Then using a needle from the the Hareri tree (from the Acacia family), she sews the wound before escorting the girl to a secluded temporary house for her to heal. Today, the circumcisers use the metallic needles. Sadly, they are not sterilised.

Garissa Women fight against FGM

Garissa Women fight against FGM

Inside the house, a small hole is already dug, to serve as the toilet for the girl for upto about eight days when she can walk. Hussein Ali, a cultural elder in Kamuthe Location insists that abandoning FGM is like turning aganist his own culture.

Commenting on the cases of deaths as a result of FGM, Ali insists that FGM is not really the cause of the deaths as reported. “If a child dies during the cut, we believe it is the will of God,” says Ali. While the boys heal within two to three weeks, Ali says a girl can take upto three months to heal.

According to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) will affect 6.6 million girls by 2050. Todate, 3.6 million girls globally have been affected by the cut.

Yusuf Abdi Mohammed, the Actionaid Program Officer in Garissa says that the locals see the practice as an essential procedure that every girl must undergo if she is to be viewed as chaste on her wedding night.

Mohammed adds that Kamuthe residents cite religious reasons for practising FGM. “They believe that if a girl is not cut, she will not get a husband, her family will lose its status, it compromises the virginity of the girl and that the girl will mature fast hence increase her sex urge at a tender age.”

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