For Such a Time as This
Protocol: The conference is designed to serve as a conclusion to our efforts to combat female genital mutilation that began in 1995 with project “Innocence” (FGM). The goal is to bring together those at the forefront in the fight against FGM. It will act as a platform for collaboration and networking and as an interactive forum to get all stakeholders to understand and know how to integrate and plan programs in the community that address both the physical and the spiritual needs of their target group.
Approximately 100 participants from Kisii, Mount Elgon and Rarok districts gathered to discuss this brutal issue destroying their communities
This years conference objectives include:
a) Create a free atmosphere for discussion and interaction among participants.
b) To identify the historical roots of the ritual and current forces controlling the practice.
c) Educate participants on the far reaching implications of victims' health.
d) To inspire, energize and empower attendees with an understanding of the significant
role of individuals committed at such a time as this to end the brutality.
e) To create the necessary alliances and leadership to develop and implement
a systematic on-going program with the communities.
The program included testimonies by women who had undergone the operation as well as children who had stood firm and refused to be circumcised.
Mary said that FGM in Kisii is rampant, everybody knows about is, even little children are told about this rite. They believe that when girls pass through this rite they have grown into a woman and are ready to be married. That's why every girl child wants to go through this rite.
Members from Mary's community demonstrate what happens whilst Mary describes the following events: It starts the evening before the day of circumcision. The girl is taken to a house where circumcised women present tell her what to expect. These stories continue throughout the night.
Around 4 am the girl is taken to the river, has to take all her clothes off and then sit in the river. The water is very chilly, that early in the morning, and is supposed to make her numb so she won't feel so much pain. It didn't work because it is still so painful. Leaving the river, the girls are taken to a special place - everyone knows it - where no men are allowed. The girls are lined up, one by one, so her friends behind in the queue don't see what happens.
She has to take a place on a special stool. One woman puts her hand over her mouth whilst others wave tree branches, sing and dance. Now she is ready to associate with men. They welcome her in the home where meals were being prepared. Her mamma arrives via a special gate. The father and brothers sit in front of the house, next to the gate. She is given a special "wimby" stick and a special leave known as "arumbu", to show she is ready to plant food. She can use the stick to make traditional baskets used for harvesting.
When she's ready to leave, she comes out of the house; her father gives her a handshake and a woven basket. He tells her special words of blessing now she has done him proud, because parents of children without the rite are not respected in the community. Celebrations start; the community eats and dances outside. The girl cannot come out, there's only one woman who will bring her food. When she's in the house she gets a special tree that she has to water every day.
There's also a special fire lit that shouldn't go off until she leaves the house. If the fire goes out it is seen as a bad Oman, e.g. even she does get married, she won't be able to have children. After she's healed, checked by women, she goes to the river to bath. Afterwards she's taken to a special home. There her mama comes with special basket with meat inside to show she's blessed and can have her own cattle now. After this the girls is allowed to go to her house and meet friends and interact with anyone. The community makes sure she is married quickly now she is a woman.
Traditionalists want FGM to continue. Those who are educated want other rites. Mary, a nurse, used to practice circumcision. She tells her story below.
Nurse Mary's testimony
"Very young girls came to the hospital in the early hours. I put them in a small bed, washed my hands and put gloves on. I would disinfect and anaesthetize the vagina before cutting off the clitoris with a knife and scissors. Then I put disinfectant on the wound to prevent infections. Today we have come to say no to FGM because there are so many complications afterwards, for example, urine tube infections, HIV/Aids, hepatitis, and tetanus.
"Circumcised women do not enjoy sex with their husband, leading to broken families. The men go to the cities to look for women who aren't circumcised," the participants loudly applauded this remark, "let's put our hands together to fight against FGM."
Grace starts by saying that FGM is very painful. She was only 12 years old when she was taken from her grandmother's house at 5 am.
They took her to the river she recalls how cold the water was, in order to numb her body. She was taken with other girls of her age. She went first; she was naked and had to sit on a special stone. A very strong woman covered her eyes and mouth. "If you scream, you bring omen in your family."
The knife came down and it was painful, it wasn't too sharp and cut everything off. The pain was so bad it went into her head. She was in the house for over a month and desperately ill when they took her to the hospital, looking for medication. Grace felt how inhumane it is, so she will never do it against her daughters' wishes. God blessed her with 3 girls and she has kept her promise. Her daughters are adults now, almost married and performing well at school. This gave her a round of applause from the listeners.
When the wound is healed, Grace continues, there is a scar that isn't flexible. Therefore it is dangerous to give birth at home. Even the delivery in hospital is extremely painful. "For those of you that think about circumcision for yourself or daughters; DON'T DO IT!" she said.
The war against FGM went into schools, small girls listened and learnt about alternatives; the right to choose what to do. Children can make good choices. Give them a choice, an alternative to the knife. There is power in a new generation, a generation that can make a difference but only with our help. They are the heroes of today and the heroines of tomorrow. FGM is coming to an end!
Two young girls who escaped the knife were reading out a beautiful poem. The title was: "Oh mama should your daughter cry with you?" One of them was Esther, from Kisii who will share her testimony next.
Esther begins, "We are conquerors. We were given information and insight into FGM but it was difficult to resist the rite. We were seen as sources of friction in the community, we had a big problem with our grandmother who talked about it for years. I could resist because I was educated."
Esther couldn't stay with circumcised girls but persevered even after the other girls shut her out. Circumcised girls were brought gifts and good clothing but she wasn't given anything. One day, she went to her cousin to talk about FGM.
"My grandmother came for my cousin forcefully but she resisted with the help of my parents. The community came as the girl screamed and said we brought shame to the community. It created conflict between family members as the cousin stayed with me. People said we will become prostitutes and smell, but that didn't shake us. Now we say we are conquerors. Join your hands together and say no to FGM!!"
"I was brought up in a Christian family and I knew that one day I would be circumcised. When my time came my mum said. 'Read from the Bible. Genesis 17 where Abraham was circumcised.' In the old days only boys were circumcised. The Bible doesn't say that girls should be circumcised. Mum said it was painful when she give birth to me. At that time I was so young I didn't even know where babies came from. So we were left out while all the other girls were circumcised. This meant that I didn't have any gifts and was teased at school and on the field. I couldn't even speak to the teacher about it, but mum did. As a result the girls who teased me were caned. Since then they started using my proper name and never teased again.
Zipporah goes on seminars into communities to inform parents in the fight against FGM.