Soon two women dragged me inside. My turn had come. The big one took hold of my head, her knees on my shoulders. The other clasped my thighs and spread my legs. … Then the exciser grasped that small piece of flesh and whacked it off like a piece of zebu meat. …
This paraphrase from Khady’s memoir Mutilée (in English Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims her Human Rights) tells you what generations of awesome survivors have been fighting, and sometimes risking their lives, to stop: female genital and sexual mutilation.
The UN has declared October 11 the International Day of the Girl Child, and UnCUT/VOICES Press is proud to offer the words of daring witnesses to violence against their own young bodies, undergone hundreds of thousands of times. Khady speaks for all too many when she writes about how, after excision, she was forced at age fourteen to wed a sanitation worker and to live in a one-room apartment in Paris. Facing marital rape night after night, she gave birth to five children in as many years before her husband imported a second wife. Like nearly all child-brides, Khady depended at first on a spouse who controlled the budget, and he, like many men who disapproved of birth control, beat a mate who took the pill, accusing her of being a prostitute.
To whom could a young woman turn to escape? At that time, in the eighties at the birth of a global movement against FGM, the answer was “no one.”
A hero, Khady deployed her feistiness, intelligence, and valor to enter a profession and a public life striving to ease the path for other immigrant women and girls like herself. A leader who became the founding president of the EuroNet-FGM and the face of the campaign that led to the UN Resolution to Ban FGM in December 2012, she risked – and continues to defy–, significant backlash.
Because the pain, Khady says, was “like yanking out your guts. Like a hammer in your skull,” and, not only down there but everywhere, her body “home to a famished rat or an army of ants. … Swallowed whole by horror,” she writes, “I was engulfed from my brain through my belly to my feet and felt like my frame had been hacked in two” (12).
Years later, she laments, she still hears herself howling.
It’s hard to understand that brutality like this, — ritual and systematic–, is still imposed on girls. But the public remains largely indifferent to the crime.
Another book soon to be released, Kiminta. Maasai. A Survivor Reflects on FGM by Maria Kiminta and Tobe Levin, closely follows Khady’s script. Describing that morning when her turn came, Kiminta writes:
“Following the command to strip, we were made to lie down. Hardly had I hit the ground than my thighs were seized by two adults who yanked them apart, crushing my hips. A third person’s weight descended on my head and chest. To prevent kicks, they bent my legs at the knee, tied them at the ankles and extended the rope to my thighs. Two more women imprisoned my hands. Clearly, they presumed I’d fight.
Then, without missing a beat, the circumciser grabbed my clitoris, pinched it between her unclean nails and, — slash! – cut it off. She then presented the severed organ to senior female relatives: had she deleted the right amount of flesh? Would one thrust suffice or were more required?”
Enough, you are probably thinking, and yet … Although scholars quibble about inadequacies in the one-size-fits-all approach to FGM that highlights similarities in girls’ experience rather than differences in context (these two texts come from Kenya in eastern Africa, and Senegal in the west) basically, this is what it is.
The good, possibly GREAT news comes from those former victims, now survivors who, wounded as girls, are coming out in droves as women to end the silence and stop FGM.
With special thanks to Khady, Kiminta, the Guardian, and everyone involved in revving up their efforts to improve the lives of girls and, hence, the globe. In this photo, I present the board of FORWARD – Germany, elected on 20 September 2014, for whose support I remain forever grateful. Left to right, Treasurer Annette Ibkendenz, President Dr. Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, Vice-President (and founding president) Dr. Tobe Levin, Member-at-large Dr. Mariame Racine Sow, and Secretary Dr. Angelika Köster-Lossack. Photo credit: Managing Director Heidi Besas.