FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is also known as female circumcision and it is the cutting of some or all of the external female genitalia. It has been criminalized in some countries, but not all. Unfortunately, there have been millions of women who have been victims of this act. Six African women talk about their experience being victims of FGM.
Yetunde, 22, Nigerian
It happened when they discovered I had started my period at the age of 13. My mother is from Ekiti state, and apparently it was a tradition from her side of the family. The day I started my period, they killed a chicken for me and cooked. It was like a celebration. The FGM only happens after your period starts, because that is when they believe you will have more sexual urges, and it is done to avoid the clitoris touching the baby’s head, so the child can stay alive. They believe women with clitoris risk losing their baby during childbirth. Apparently, once the clitoris touches the baby’s head, the baby will die. I am not sure if my father knew about it, because it is not his tradition, but I saw him object for my niece’s 5 years ago.
Now, I am 22 and sex is complicated for me. If there is a reason I get dry in 5 seconds, it might be because of it. The dryness, burns and swollen areas during sex only makes me not so interested in sexual relations. It is not STI, because I have checked and I don’t have unprotected sex. FGM is one of the reason I haven’t had sex in 2 years.
Jane, 25, Nigerian
I was about two years old when they did it to me in Rivers state. They said it was so I would not have sexual urges and they did not want us to be having sex as teens and preteens. However, the only thing I think it did was to make me unable to orgasm. I don’t know what having an orgasm feels like, and I had to ask my friends cause I thought it was normal to not be able to. Honestly, I blame grandma and whoever did this to me. Luckily, it is no longer as common as it used to be, and I was the last girl in my family it was done to.
Anita, 26, Nigerian
I feel I found out in the worst way possible. I went to an all girls boarding school and we usually bathe outside. So, from junior school I noticed my vagina was different and I did not have a clitoris and did not know what a clitoris was. It was strange to me why other girls had something between their vaginas and mine was different. So in SS2, I finally asked my mother why mine was different, and if something was wrong with me. She laughed and said they cut it off when I was born. It was done by this doctor or midwife that ran a maternity hospital. When I asked why, she said to make sure I don’t ‘spoil’ when I grow up. It’s believed that having a clit will make you always horny, so it’s better you don’t have it so you don’t have the urge for sex until you get married.
I guess they got what they wanted. I had never had an orgasm, and it wasn’t until last year I started wanting to have sex. All my teenage years up until I was 24, I didn’t know what feeling horny was like. I only had sex because my partner wanted it, so was more like an obligation. I met someone else last year, and sometimes I want him, but I doubt it’s sexual urges. Maybe it is because I just love being with him, so if it means fucking then that’s fine. FGM is why I have to deal with multiple UTIs and why it hurts when I pee sometimes. Not to mention the low self esteem it brings. In Secondary school, I had someone laugh at me when I was bathing because my vagina was fat. I can’t even be angry at my mum. She was circumcised too, and I just feel bad for her.
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K, 21, Kenyan
I had FGM done to me in 2007. Initially, my dad was against it so they waited until he left town to do it. After our circumcision, my younger siblings who are also girls went through with no objection whatsoever from my dad. I think he originally rejected because it was the first time, and he was less religious and more reasonable then. I come from a Somali family, so that was the norm for most of us. It scared me and I wanted to be done with but it never occurred to me that it. I didn’t know I could say no or I had a say in the matter. Now that I am grown, it’s so weird that they did something like that and never thought of me as a person whose privacy they invaded even in that young age.
Cynthia, 21, Nigerian
I didn’t find out until I was about 12/13. I had read about it online, seen movements speaking and kicking against it, and I agreed with these activists. So one day I was chatting with my mom and trying to build up the conversation, she just blurted out that I was ‘circumcised’ as well. Apparently it happened when I was still a few days old baby. I think what hurts a lot is that she did not say she had a reason for doing it, they just did it. I felt and still feel so betrayed.
I’m trying to extend some grace to her because she didn’t know better and was ignorant. At the time I was born there were lots of myths flying around; that ‘uncircumcised’ women grow up to be promiscuous or they get sexually active too early. So it was a somewhat ‘normal’ practice. I’m glad my family doesn’t do it anymore.
Ada, 23, Nigerian
It happened when I was a child so I can’t say an exact age, and I actually never knew I was circumcised until last year. My boyfriend was the one who let me know, and after a lot of research I found out it is common in many igbo homes. That in the 90s and early 2000s, they just ‘circumcise’ straight from the hospital. I am too scared to confront my parents, but I am still working up the courage. The day I found out, I cried so much. My boyfriend and sister were the ones that comforted me. I have come to terms with it, and understand that they do not know any better, and I honestly hope it has stopped. I am the first and I know myself and my other sister sister have been ‘circumcised’, but I do not know about the younger two. Honestly, I just hope it did not get to them.
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