About this Story
This article originally appeared on PulseWire as part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, a World Pulse training program providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training to 31 emerging women leaders. Edits have been made to the original text for clarity.
To view other Voices of Our Future assignments in their original form, and to meet the correspondents, visit the VOF Assignments page.
A Future Without Female Genital Mutilation
As a young girl, Sudanese Voices of Our Future correspondent Halima Mohamed Abdel Rahman was circumcised at the hands of the elder women of her community. Now an advocate for the practice's abolition, she shares her own story and calls out for reform.
"Change is in process. It will not happen overnight, but with persistence, proper education, and consistency, it is within reach."
I remember being forced to lie down on three old mattresses: two stretched on an angareb (a wooden bed popular in Sudan); the other plied under my torso. My midwife Hajja sat on a low wooden stool. Our eyes met as she faced my naked body.
“Now you are a woman,” she said. “A real woman never cries. I will remove this dirt, and you will become clean, a real Muslim.”
There were several women around me during the ritual. Two took hold of my thighs, while two others firmly held my arms. Another sat behind me and put my head on her lap. With her right hand she covered my eyes. As she put her left arm on my chest, she must have felt my heart beating fast because she said, “Honor your father’s name. Don’t be afraid; this is not painful. You have seen your sister and your cousins. They did not cry.” I didn’t dare utter a sound as tears ran down my face.
“In the name of Allah Most Gracious, Most Merciful,” Hajja said. She raised her fat hand, ornamented with golden bracelets, and addressed the women around her. “Open her widely,” she murmured.
I felt the fingers of her left hand moving my nudity apart and then a sharp needle piercing my flesh up and down and in the middle. I cried at the top of my voice and tried to raise my torso to kick the two women who were firmly holding my thighs.
“Oh women, hold her firmly!” Hajja cried.
I was anesthetic resistant.
Suddenly, she started cutting. The pain was excruciating. I cried like a mad person. Her head was bent between my thighs, but I felt as if she was cutting in the middle of my skull. More women were called to hold me down. Some of them nicknamed me coward.
Hajja called one of the old ladies over and asked, “Does everything look okay?”
“No, no,” said the old woman, “Cut this piece. Yes, this one. And remove her clitoris. What is the use of it? And, remove the dirt. Do as I tell you.” It was Grandmother Amna, doing her best to establish herself as the expert in the anatomy of young girls.
Again Hajja bent between my thighs and cut me with the razor. Or perhaps it was a kitchen knife. I was sure of one thing only: She wasn’t wearing gloves or covering her head. She wore only her white short dress. She was fat and stout and mowed my flesh with no mercy.
And then came the stitches: nine in all, causing me pain and panic whenever I tried to move.
I was only 6 years old—too tiny to struggle.
Between Two Atrocities
The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that in Africa about three million girls are at risk for this barbaric practice annually.
My country of Sudan ranks fifth among countries practicing female genital mutilation (FGM) worldwide. According to a UNICEF report, 89% of Sudanese women are circumcised. That’s roughly 14 million women and girls.
In Sudan, there are three types of FGM practiced today: ‘Sunna’, removal of the hood and part of the clitoris; Clitoridectomy, removal of the clitoris and adjacent labia; and Infibulation, which consists of a complete Clitoridectomy as well as stitching of the labia, allowing only a small gap for urine and menstrual blood to pass through. In my point of view type one is the least practiced.
This past February the Sudanese government legalized the Sunna form of FGM. The Council of Ministers dropped the 13th article of the 2009 Children’s Act which banned FGM to take into account the Islamic fatwa that distinguishes “harmful” circumcision—Infibulation, Clitoridectomy, from less extensive procedures like Sunna.
Ironically, this decision came just one day before the world celebrated International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation.
With this decision, my dear homeland has taken decades of work against these practices back to square one. . . .