The conveyance arrived in Podor, northern Senegal, as part of a holistic project promoting women’s health and empowerment: Maa Feew, meaning in Fulani “everything’s gonna be OK.” Its three pillars include construction of a school library, managed by the Bookfeeding Project (Caroline von Janowski); adequate toilets for students; and a health center. The town where our co-founder and managing director of FORWARD for Women, Dr. Mariame Racine Sow spent her childhood, Podor poses risks for girls and women because FGM takes place there, as do early and forced marriage, and these three damaging practices endanger lives. Efforts to curtail excision and, if viewed through the lens of numerous victims, legal rape are ongoing but, caring about women’s welfare, we are unwilling to wait for eradication to diminish the harm.
Because immature hips in girls too young for pregnancy may not provide a neonate with adequate passage, and, similarly, since scarring from FGM further delays dilation in the second stage of labor, we observed hightened mortality among parturient mothers whose only recourse to help had been handcarts. We therefore provided the emergency rescue vehicle that allows speedy transport from Podor, 400 kilometers north of the capital, to Dakar where complications can be properly treated.
According to http://www.FORWARDFORWOMEN.org, the ambulance serves an average of 90 women per month. In the photo you see one, accompanied by a Maa Feew assistant and a medic. Hence, we are saving lives, and you are invited to join us. Please visit the website for donation options.
On the subject of early and child marriage, often structurally linked to FGM when excision signals the availability of the amputee for courting and impregnation, memoirs express horror at defloration. Following is Khady’s account. She was only 13 1/2 when a distant, older cousin asked for her hand. So far at the wedding, she had not yet seen him while hoping “he is no brute. Sometimes, you overheard mothers talking about men who are unkind and even vicious to their wives the first night. No one had yet reported that a bride wasn’t a virgin. Even if it had been the case, the family would have kept it under wraps and the husband, too. Sometimes, though, they mentioned a newly-wed who fell ill and had to stay in bed for several days afterward. (58). …
“No woman admits that excision might make the first sexual intercourse painful or cause distress later on even though older victims have had problems or been privy to their daughters’ misery. But it wasn’t talked about and I had absolutely no idea” (59). …
Soon, the youngster would be taken in charge by a pod of matrons.
“They removed the veil from my hair, then the boubou, until I was sitting there with only a wrap-around and my torso nude. Symbolically, they were preparing my body for the ‘sacrifice’. They poured a little liquid on my head and chanted while patting my skin with aromatic fluid. For twenty minutes, I was a doll in their hands. I then resumed the white boubou saturated in the meantime with incense, symbol of virginity and ritual ‘purification’. After a thicker and heavier fabric was draped around me, I moved toward the bedroom, my head hidden under a veil.
“Because on the wedding day our house was full, Mandingo neighbors let us use their place across the street, providing four bare walls and a single mattress on the floor. A white sheet and mosquito netting covered it.
“The woman who walked me over soon left me alone.
“I assume that from that moment on, I literally lost my mind. It must have fled because there’s something in me that absolutely refuses to envision what happened in that room. I know he came in but I neither looked at him nor removed my veil. He extinguished the oil lamp; and that’s the last thing I recall. I woke up the next morning around 4 a.m. as the sun rose. Cries and ululations at the door had aroused me from the coma into which I had fallen. The husband was gone; he had already left. The mamas were happy; they had gotten what they wanted, and my girlfriends told me, ‘My God! how you howled last night! The neighborhood resounded with your cries’.
“I remember the searing of that instant, but not my shrieks. Excruciating, it had hurled me into the darkest abyss. Robbed of sight and understanding, I had been absent for three hours from my life. Hating myself, I blotted out that intimate wound forever powerless to heal.” (60).