Why me? The permanent scars of female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a harmful – and at times life-threatening – practice that violates the human rights of girls and women. As a result of deep rooted cultural and religious traditions, close to 125 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM, and millions more girls are at risk every day.

FGM has zero health benefits – it results in life-long health complications and  leaves permanent physical and psychological scars. But with time and support, girls like Nkatha* are turning their pain into action, speaking out to protect the next generation of girls.

[SEE ALSO: Answering your questions about female genital mutilation]

“I was in a lot of pain”

Side profile of Nkatha.Nkatha was forced to undergo the ‘cut’ at the age of 9 – a cultural norm in her village in Kenya. Now 16, she vaguely recalls the events of that day.

“My grandmother called me outside. I just remember being very terrified and wishing I could run away, but it was very dark. Two women, one of them was my aunt, held me down. The room was dimly lit. The next thing I felt was a very sharp pain. I attempted to cry but my aunt told me not to. A few minutes later, it was all done. I was in a lot of pain,” shared Nkatha.

A violation of human rights

Hand holding a small blade.Nkatha’s experience is not uncommon; in many communities where FGM is still practiced, girls from as early as infancy to 15 years old are cut, and the decision is often made by relatives. As children, these girls are vulnerable, unaware of their rights and unable to protect themselves against this form of violence.

After a few years, Nkatha began to understand what happened to her, but wanted to know why her family, the people meant to protect her, would cause her harm.

“I questioned my grandmother why she did that to me and why my mother allowed it to happen. Mother said she remained silent as she did not want to be labeled a rebel and a traitor for going against the norm,” said Nkatha.

“My grandmother congratulated me for being brave and is proud that now I am a woman. I refuse to see it that way,” Nkatha declared. “A part of my body was removed without my permission. No one asked if I wanted to be cut or not, they just did it. My rights were violated.”

The impact of FGM on a girl’s life

“I told my grandmother I will report her if she tries to force [my sister] to undergo the cut.”

After a girl has undergone FGM, she’s considered “ready” for adulthood. This often means an end to her education, and an increased likelihood of child, early or forced marriage.

These pressures and expectations on top of the FGM experience can leave girls traumatized. To address this, Plan works alongside community groups to provide counseling to affected girls. And through FGM camps, girls are educated on their rights, the dangers of this practice, and how they can speak out against it.

“I don’t support FGM at all. I hope that my younger sister will not have to go through what I went through. I told my grandmother I will report her to the authorities if she tries to force her to undergo the cut,” said Nkatha.

Challenging traditions, changing mindsets

FGM is actually illegal in Kenya, but it remains widespread in remote and rural communities – often performed in secret.

To address this, Plan established the ‘Building Skills for Girls for Life’ project in communities like Nkatha’s, which focuses on educating girls, empowering them with knowledge, and engaging boys and men to change their beliefs toward FGM.

“Instead of subjecting girls to FGM we should instead subject them to books.”

Plan also works with the community elders to seek their support in changing attitudes toward gender-based violence, including FGM. With success, the elders in Nkatha’s community have strongly condemned the practice, calling on others to join them in recognizing the law against FGM – even supporting the implementation of FGM awareness programs in schools.

“We are in a different era and should move with the changing times. Instead of subjecting girls to FGM we should instead subject them to books,” said a local leader.

As attitudes begin to change and communities challenge the traditions surrounding FGM, we can end this practice worldwide, protect the rights of girls and ensure girls like Nkatha are the last in their families to experience FGM.

[SEE ALSO: Uniting to end FGM in Mali: 3 stories of minds changed

*Name has been changed to protect identity


Protect girls’ rights

Through Plan Canada’s Because I am a Girl project, you can help tackle some of the biggest challenges that girls and women face in developing countries, like access to their basic human rights to survival, identity and protection. Keep girls educated, healthy and safe from violence, like FGM. Sponsor the project today.