No Tolerance: My Female Genital Mutilation Story
by: Dolapo Adedapo
Years ago during my Undergraduate studies, I participated in a study abroad program in Tanzania, one of the best experiences of my life. While I do understand as a young Nigerian woman who schooled in Nigeria, that living in another African country doesn’t seem like it should be the biggest deal, I was delightfully surprised by just how much of a culture shock it was.
On one of our weekend excursions, we were lucky enough to spend the night in a Maasai community and truly experience their way of life. The first morning of our excursion, I experienced something that till this day is seared in my mind like an iron branding.
My group was invited to participate in a ceremony celebrating the coming of age of two adolescent girls in the community, a glorious experience indeed…or was it? We all got ready—as ready as outsiders invited to a village celebration could be.
I heard the most blood curdling, chilling scream I’d ever heard
Around 10am, the ceremony began. The women cheered and shared some of their beautiful, heavily beaded necklaces with the females in our group. The ceremonial cows were slaughtered, and the Maasai warriors cheerfully sipped and passed around a blood and milk mixture that seemingly had the effect of an alcoholic beverage. Donned in my festive necklace and Tanzanian fabric I had purchased from a gift shop in Arusha—the capital city—a few days before, I too danced and cheerfully participated in the merriment and festivities. Until I heard the most blood curdling, chilling scream I’d ever heard, stopping me dead in my tracks.
A few of us visitors immediately started to look around to figure out exactly where such a sound could have originated, that frightful, soul-stopping noise. A few seconds later, there the sound was again, but this time even louder and stronger, followed by wailing and crying. As future anthropologists, we knew enough not to insult our hosts by giving them looks or using our imperfect Swahili to ask the wrong questions. Instead, we desperately sought out our Professor, Dr Aren, to inquire from him. He quickly pulled us to the side and proceeded to explain to us where the screams were coming from and what the celebration was truly for.
Two young girls in the community had “come of age” and were being circumcised. This perplexed most of the people in the group, as most had never heard of a female being circumcised. I on the other hand had heard of it. At the ripe age of 18 I had been part of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, and had even performed at Madison Square Garden in a fundraiser for action against FGM.
A razor or piece of broken glass is used to remove…the girl’s external genitalia
But even I with my supposed knowledge and experience, was not mentally prepared for this. Our professor also explained to us that to prepare the woman for marriage, without anesthesia or any sort of numbing solution, a razor or piece of broken glass is used to remove part or all of the girl’s external genitalia. That this is done ensure her virginity until her wedding night, a procedure which can lead to infection, severe bleeding and sometimes death.
While the celebrations continued and the screams intensified, many of us decided to spend the rest of the time in the car in silence or sobbing, unable to really wrap our minds around what was taking place.
When we returned to our hotel that evening, I immediately called my mother, as she is the master of explanations and can find a way to break anything down to me in such a scientific way that I remove all emotion from the topic being discussed, something I needed at that moment. She proceeded to tell me how popular the procedure is also in Nigeria and how one of my aunts that had accompanied her to see me perform just two years earlier at the FGM fundraiser, had mentioned—ever so nonchalantly—that she too had been circumcised as a girl In Nigeria. She said she’d never thought anything of it, it was something that just had to be done. This new revelation seemed to pull me down further into despair at realizing just how close to home this issue is, and just how widespread and prevalent the practice is.
Accordingly to Al Jazeera America, FGM is on the rise right here in the United States of America, right underneath our noses.
Let us help and protect our girls, they are the leaders of tomorrow.
As the World Health Organization, W.H.O., marks this day, the 6th of February, 2015 as the International Day of No Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, I too share my moment of awakening, and charge all of you to take a stand, ask questions. Let’s not just accept every cultural practice as the norm, we must speak up and stop the proliferation of barbaric practices that hold no real significance for our health or wellbeing. Let us help and protect our girls, they are the leaders of tomorrow.
Types of Female Genital Mutilation
- Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
- Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are “the lips” that surround the vagina).
- Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
- Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
Hope that paints a graphic enough picture for you!
Ways to Help End Female Genital Mutilation
Support Equality Now
Support the End FGM Guardian Campaign
Support Stop FGM Now
Dolapo Adedapo is an International Program Manager who has worked with several NGOs on the African continent to help achieve equality for women, girls, children and the disabled. An avid traveler, Dolapo has lived in or visited over 17 countries.