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A Cruel Cut in the Name of Tradition: One Woman’s Story of How She Fought Back against Female Genital Mutilation

The terror of what was to come overwhelmed me. I could run no more and knew that for my mother to be spared from being beaten and from possible death, I had to submit to my father’s will. I was to be circumcised, and could do nothing to stop it.

Back then I knew nothing about the risk of bleeding to death, the transmission of infectious diseases, the permanent damage done to a girl’s life – all these things that can occur with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). I just believed devoutly that it is wrong and harmful. I did not find anyone who was able to protect me though.

I was only 12, when my father took me from school and told me it is time for me to be circumcised. I asked my mother for help. She said that, as a woman, she could not resist my father’s will. “All you can do is to run away,” she said. I asked my sister Esther. “Mother is right,” she answered, “they will force you.” She helped by giving me some money. So one morning I caught the bus to an older sister who lived in Nairobi.

My father started to ask: “Where is Naingol’ai?” (My Maasai name.) My mother denied she knew where I was. However, my father found out and started to beat my mother and threatened her: “If Naingol’ai does not return within a week, I will beat you to death!” My mother wrote me a letter. She was very scared and pleaded with me to come back. Anxious about losing my mother, I returned home. I found my mother lying in a dark corner of her hut, stone-still. I thought she was dead and I had come too late. My father had beaten her so badly with his traditional Maasai stick – her head, her legs, her hands … she was injured everywhere. Her eyes were so swollen that she could not see but only hear me. I was in such a state of anguish. “Thank you for coming back,” my mother whispered, exhausted and in pain. Three days later, the circumcision ceremonies began.

There were 30 girls to be circumcised. As I come from a very large Maasai family, my father having six wives and I being one of around 50 children by him. Six of the girls to be circumcised were my sisters; the others came from the neighbourhood. We received a new dress and most of the girls were excited, completely in ignorance of what was going to happen. Some of the older women were making jokes, saying that if they were young again they would run away. No one said why though.

Although FGM was illegal in Kenya even then, in the 1990’s, people were not prosecuted by the police, and the teachers in school did not even mention FGM and why it was prohibited. It was an expected course that this would happen to all girls in our community. According to the traditional beliefs, the circumcision turns a girl into a woman who is fit for marriage. Circumcision is said to “clean” the girl and to guarantee that she will be a faithful wife.

The circumcision ceremony started with two days of dancing and singing. Then, on the third day at six a.m. we were taken outside. All our family and neighbours attended; small children were bouncing around, playing and laughing. The girls who were going to be circumcised laid down on cow skins, two to three girls to each one. Then a woman came along with a knife and she cut us. The procedure took a minute for each girl. This was performed without anaethestic, no cleaning or disinfection and with the same knife. To cry out during this ceremony would have been seen as shameful, so no one screamed. The pain was very short lived initially. However the pain that came later was terrible.

We were moved into a big house and had someone care for us, usually an older sister. We were too weak to get up alone or to go to the toilet without help. For a whole week, there was nothing but tears and pain. Nothing made the pain go away. The girls cried all day and night, unable to eat or sleep. I lost a lot of blood. It was a relief when, at last, I lost consciousness.

I was lucky enough to survive. However, many girls bleed to death after being cut. Other girls die later due to infections that are caused by the procedure, HIV/AIDS being one of the diseases that are spread by the cuttings. Moreover FGM causes an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths, as the scar tissue can delay the childbirth process. According to the World Health Organization, about 92 million African girls age 10 years and above have suffered FGM.

The cutting was not the end of this story though. It is customary to be married soon after circumcision. I was to be married only one month after being cut. One morning, I heard there was a visitor, a man, about 60 years old and married with five wives. I asked my mother who is it? She said: “This is the man who wants to marry you. He has brought food, beverages, and blankets and is talking to your father now.” I was upset, “No-way am I going to marry this stranger!” Three weeks later, the man came back and the final date for the marriage was set and a dowry agreed. So I knew I had to run away again, and this time it had to be permanent. At sunrise I began my journey to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. I knew there was work and perhaps someone who could help me. I walked all day until the evening. When I arrived I was lucky because a man from my home district was willing to help me. So I found a job there.

Back home, this time my mother did not wait for her husband to start beating her as a means of making me return home. She took my youngest brother (fortunately all my other siblings were old enough and had left home) and escaped to her own family. My mother’s older brother talked to my father and calmed the situation. Eventually, father promised he would not beat my mother anymore. However, he said I was no longer his daughter and never wanted to see me again. I was cast out.

I didn’t see my father for seven years. During those years change was taking place for the better. Although my brothers did not help me when I fought against being cut, they refused to circumcise their own daughters. My father pressurized them a great deal but they refused. In the end, even my father was persuaded to change his mind. When we met after all those years he said to me: “Come home Naing’olai. You are welcome.” He respected me for the stand I had taken.

The Tareto Maa Organization was founded on a personal vision and a determination to stop this barbaric practice that happened to me. I wanted to offer protection to young girls who had nowhere to go for help. I spoke with many people in my community who agreed to support the task of protecting the girls from circumcision and child marriage. So Tareto Maa was founded in April, 2009.

In 2009, there were seven girls who asked for shelter. Within 18 months this number had risen to 27 girls, all sheltered in private houses. Soon there were no more homes available for girls who came to ask for protection. We had to send new girls back home. I will never forget their tears and their despairing question: “Why have you helped some of the children but not me?”

By October 2010, we raised funds for a shelter, helped by a growing number of supporters, especially from Europe and North America. This was opened, 1st January, 2011. Presently 96 girls are in our care. Our campaigning within the local community has also seen successes. Many families are starting to re-think the practice of circumcision and child marriage. But the fight is not over yet.

I want to offer girls the protection which I and many others like me needed, but did not have when we were young. This is why Tareto Maa was founded and this is what creates an impetus for it to grow further. There can be an alternate rite of passage for a girl to become a woman; where she will benefit her family by having health and an education. Tareto Maa works towards this goal. However, many girls are still at risk. There is still a long way to go.

Gladys Kiranto.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Comments

Leina's picture

Gladys thanks for sharing

Gladys thanks for sharing your powerful story in such a beautiful way.Your courage is an inspiration for us all.I am so happy you are now a source of hope to the younger generation of girls in your community.May God bless your efforts with success.
hugs,
Leina

TaretoMaa's picture

Thank you Leina. Your words

Thank you Leina. Your words to me are very encouraging and makes all the efforts worthwhile. Thank you for taking the time to read this story. I was so touched by your reply.

wanja's picture

Kudos for a job well done!

thank you for sharing, it takes courage to do what you are doing and to turn you pain into joy for all the girls that benefit from your work.
Keep going!

EWG

TaretoMaa's picture

Thank you EWG. It is always

Thank you EWG. It is always good to hear that. I and the Tareto Maa team will keep going and your comments are so much appreciated. Thanks again.

mrbeckbeck's picture

Thank you for leading with courage

Thank you Gladys, for sharing your powerful, personal story here with the world. It is an honor to witness your courageous voice, and to hear the steps that you are taking to ensure no girl in the future is forced to endure such a painful practice. You are an inspiring leader, and I am so grateful that you are here with us.

Keep it up!
With deep respect,

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Manager

TaretoMaa's picture

Thank you Scott. I am very

Thank you Scott. I am very humbled by your words but thank you very much for them. I am an ordinary women who wanted no other girl to go through what I went through. That is what keeps me going. I thank you so much for reading my story and for your comments.

Sangita Thapa's picture

Great sharing!

Dear Gladys,

Thank you so much for sharing your story. Its so commendable and a great relief that you did your best to help those innocent girls who are the victims of our society's cruel customs. Keep up your good work dear sister!

Love and Peace

TaretoMaa's picture

Thank you Sangita. I have

Thank you Sangita. I have been so touched by everybody's responses on here and wanted to thank you all individually. I am very grateful for all the support that this story has received. We will keep up this work for all girls who need us.

Sharontina's picture

Great courage!

Dear Gladys,

You are an inspiration to many dear, you have taken a bold yet thoughtful step of leading younger generation into the safer world.All the best in all your ventures.

Thanks for sharing this great story.

Blessings.

Merlin Sharontina

TaretoMaa's picture

Dear Sharontina, Thank you

Dear Sharontina, Thank you for your best wishes and support. We hope this generation will be the first of many to see that the world for them can be a safer place. I am very happy to share this story with you and all who visit this site.

usha kc's picture

Dear Glady Have heard so much

Dear Glady
Have heard so much about FGM on WP newswire by many sisters. Here, your personal story has touched me again. Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience it's story of tear,pain and ofcourse story of courage:))

keep sharing your story on.

TaretoMaa's picture

Hi Usha, Thanks for this.

Hi Usha, Thanks for this. Glad that my story touched you and that you have learned about this subject on WP newswire. The more people that hears this message the better. Your support is vital in the work that we do, if we want to eradicate this practice for good. Thanks for your support.

nkinyanjui's picture

Truly God has brought you

Truly God has brought you this far for a purpose and a reason, may you continue to be the voice of the voiceless. Your test is truly the testimony you have given us here. I believe the success of Tareto Maa will bring a difference to the lives of those who cannot speak up about it. Your courage to just walk off to look for a job in the Mara, that is braveity and walking in faith into the unknown.

Blessings and continue speaking up. I intend on sharing this around for sure :-)

TaretoMaa's picture

Thanks for sharing this story

Thanks for sharing this story with anyone you know. The more the message is spread the better. We have to speak up and we heard to finally abolish this cruel tradition. Your support in this work is much appreciated.

Celine's picture

Courageous woman

Hello Gladys,

I applaud your courage and the change you stand for. Your personal story embodies success and I believe the Tareto Maa has come to give support and voice to the helpless and voiceless girls in Kenya.

Keep up the good work.

Celine

TaretoMaa's picture

Thank you Celine. We hope to

Thank you Celine. We hope to give a voice to those who can not speak up for themselves and a place to come when they feel they have no where to go. That they do have a choice. Thanks for your support in this work.

weaverheart's picture

Powerful story!

Dear Gladys,

Thank you for writing your story. Your courage and clarity of mind are so strong. I am so sorry that you had to undergo such suffering and pain. We are extremely grateful for the work that you are now doing, and saving so many lives in these girls you are helping. They will be forever grateful to you. The work you are doing will be far reaching, even beyond what you might think. You are planting seeds of change in an enormous way. Bravo.

Thank you and many blessings to you.

With love,
Laura

Laura R.

TaretoMaa's picture

Dear Laura. Your words are

Dear Laura. Your words are truly inspiring to me and the team and helps us keep going when it gets tough. I appreciate all that you have said here and hope that, yes, we have planted the seeds of change for now and the future. Thanks for your support.

Ruun Abdi's picture

Dear Glady, Thank you so much

Dear Glady,

Thank you so much for sharing your story, its an inspiration to all of us. It takes ones courage to turn the problems faced in to opportunities to help other victims and you are one of them.

Kudos dear sis!

TaretoMaa's picture

Thank you so much. I am glad

Thank you so much. I am glad it is inspiring to others. It is good when troubles can be turned into help and suffering into opportunities for others, not to share the same fate. I am grateful for your reply.

Chinemu's picture

Gladys I have run out of

Gladys I have run out of words, you the woman the world needs, congratulations for courage

TaretoMaa's picture

Thank you for so much for

Thank you for so much for reading and commenting back. This is much appreciated to spread the message and for this practice to stop.

Sutanuka Banerjee's picture

So powerful... you and your

So powerful... you and your story....

I live in my convoluted mind....

TaretoMaa's picture

Many thanks for stopping by,

Many thanks for stopping by, reading this and for your kind words.

Kara-Amena's picture

Big steps toward change

Dear Gladys,

Your story is a powerful one - even moreso because of how you have used your experience to end a barbaric practice and rescue other young girls at risk of this tradition. It's encouraging to see the change in attitudes just within your own family. Often these changes take generations. Your courage and strength and tenacity have made a huge difference. And I believe you have empowered the girls you have saved. Keep up the great work, Gladys. The world needs more changemakers like you!

Peace and blessings,
Kara-Amena

TaretoMaa's picture

Kara-Amena

Thanks for the kind words and your support which is so much appreciated.

mystika802's picture

What a powerful story. It

What a powerful story. It takes so much courage to do what you did and start the process of change for others. Thank you for sharing and raising your voice.

TaretoMaa's picture

Thanks

Thank you for your kind words and comments. Much appreciated. Hoping that Tareto Maa is one story among many where change can and is actually taking place. Thanks for your support.

Zoepiliafas's picture

We are listening

Dear Gladys,

Thank you for having the courage to share your story with us. It is women like you that begin the paradigm shift. You will remain in my thoughts.

With love,

Zoe Piliafas
Voice of Our Future Manager

Zoe Piliafas

Voices of Our Future Community Manager
World Pulse

TaretoMaa's picture

Zoe Pilafas

Thanks for listening and for your kind comments. It means a lot to me. Hope to be able to keep in touch.
Many thanks again,
Gladys.

Mercy Death (Euthanasia) Plea To President FROM POOR & HELPLESS 77 YEAR OLD WIDOW SENIOR CITIZEN & HER FAMILY
by Mohini Kamwani on Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 8:10pm ·

06 January 2013

The Hon. President of India – Shri Pranab Mukherjee ji

RE: MERCY DEATH PLEA – FROM 77 YR SR. CITIZEN WIDOW OF FREEDOM FIGHTER

Enclosed please find…2 Mercy Death Pleas…dated 03 January 2012 & 16 April 2012… sent by me to Former President Hon. Pratibha Patil ji…with Reasons of POLICE & GOVT. INJUSTICE…since last 2 years… to 77 Yr Sr. Citizen Widow Of Freedom Fighter…who went to Jail with Mahatma Gandhi ji !!!

Police…is Supposed to Protect 77 yr Sr. Citizen Widow & Mentally Challenged Girl…or…JAIL & Do CRUELTY to them???!!! …see the Ugly Truth►http://www.facebook.com/notes/mohini-kamwani/more-prima-facie-documentary-evidences-of-police-cruelty-to-me-my-son-my-mentall/404144949664959

+++

►►►Now…Please see…Big PROOF…of …Hon. Bombay High Court Order (Attached) … How Police TRIED to Lie, made False Sworn Affidavits to Hon. BHC & FORGERY of FALSE entries into Station Diary !!!...& How Hon. BHC Justices A.S.Oka & S.S.Shinde CAUGHT Police… SHOCKING !!!

►►►This Order passed by Hon. Justices A.S.Oka & S.S.Shinde on 23-11-12

… was Not being Posted on BHC website…I wrote letters & made at least 20 Calls to BHC … that other Orders of These Hon. Judges from 23-11-12 to 30-11-12 have already been Posted, but Why my Order was Not Posted ???!!!... after that this Order was Posted on 01-12-12 !!!

+++

►►►Me & my son were Arrested & Jailed ILLEGALLY…even after 40 Letters from Hon. President, PM, Sonia Gandhi ji, MHA, Governor of Maharashtra…so Your Hon. Can Imagine …what Police/Govt. WILL DO TO US…AFTER FINAL JUDGMENT FROM HON. BOMBAY HIGH COURT???!!!

+++

►►►My Hon. BHC Writ Petition Respondents…Navi Mumbai Police & Maharashtra Govt….were Not Afraid of Hon. BHC to Lie, made False Sworn Affidavits to Hon. BHC & FORGERY of FALSE entries into Station Diary…so…Your Hon. Can Imagine…what False Reports they have Made in Last 2 Years & sent to Central Govt. ???!!!

+++

►►►Our Persecution has ALREADY Started…by Rich & Powerful Accused…filing Frivolous Defamation cases against us …in Hon. JMFC Vashi Court…& using False Police Reports in the Court !!!...so Threatening a Poor & Helpless 77 yr Sr. Citizen Widow REPEATEDLY Even after Police Notices …is Not a Crime???...but if Police DO NOT take Legal action against Rich & Powerful Accused & that 77 yr Sr. Citizen Widow INFORMS the World/Society that Accused have been Served Police Notices TWICE for Threatening her…is a Crime???!!!

►►►This is …Because…No Action has been taken against Rich & Powerful Accused + Police …that they have …Influenced/Interfered in my Justice Process for Last 2 Years …+…AGAIN Started to do More Atrocities on us…in the Hon. JMFC Vashi Court & DSAME Hon. Magistrate…Shri Lohare ji…who sent us to Jail BEFORE Illegally !!!

►►► ►►► So…More INJUSTICE is being done to us…That is why…Your Hon. :

WE REQUEST US TO GRANT US MERCY DEATHS

Please Grant me, my son & my Mentally Challenged daughter Mercy Death.

►►►Then We Request You Hon. President To Please Ensure Sale Of Our House & From Our “Blood Money” Please Pay The Bribes To Corrupt Police Officers & Ministers So That Atleast After Our Deaths They Will Register Our FIR Against Criminal Accused Who Are Not Leaving Us Even After We Severed Our Relation With Them.

►►►OUR FIR WILL NOT BE REGISTERED WITHOUT BRIBES

With HIGHEST Regards

Mohini Kamwani – 77 yr Sr. Citizen

Facebook: Mohini Kamwani
Twitter: @MohiniKamwani & @KamwaniMohini
Email: mohini.kamwani@gmail.com

TaretoMaa's picture

Your petition

Dear Mohini,

We are truly touched by your plight and your petition has been re-tweeted on twitter and passed on before but I don't know why you have placed it here. This is for comments regarding Glady's story and really not the place for it here. If you feel your story relates to gender-based violence, then please write your story to Worldpulse and get your message heard. This piece of writing does not give any reader any link of where to go to even sign a petition. I am very sorry but I feel placing this here will not get your voice or message heard in a constructive way. I hope you understand this.
Regards,
Helen Marshall on behalf of Gladys Kiranto and Tareto Maa.

Rahmana Karuna's picture

tears in my eyes

Thank you gladys for writing and sharing your story. Rahmana

TaretoMaa's picture

Thank you Rahmana for your

Thank you Rahmana for your comment here and for reading this story. Any reading of this is very much appreciated. My best wishes to you.
Gladys.

zha zha's picture

Gladys, the pain and terror

Gladys, the pain and terror is overwhelming even as I read your story, what more you and all the girls who had to go through it. You are truly a woman of great courage. God bless.

TaretoMaa's picture

Hello

Thank you zha zha for your kind words here. I am very touched. Thank you for reading this story. God bless you too, Gladys.

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