Guest blog by 28 Too Many volunteer Vivien Cohen.
“I will not be cut! You will not cut me!” So exclaims 17 year old Nancy to her mother, as they talk whilst they share the washing up. Nancy, who is passionate about education, worries about her future in much the same way as many other girls her age. However, there is one worry that is not as widely shared with her peer group around the world —the fear of having her genitals mutilated.
Nancy is just one of the girls who feature in the Guardian’s 2011 documentary ‘I will never be cut’, which presents an unflinching look at the problems faced by young women who are being pressured into undergoing FGM, and also explores some of the ways in which campaigners and the girls themselves are trying to change the prevailing attitudes which surround FGM in some parts of the world.
Gertrude is 15 and, like Nancy, comes from Kenya’s Pokot community. She is staying with her grandmother, as advised by her mother, in order to escape the pressure her father is putting on her to be circumcised — which will increase her eligibility for marriage. “She is a very special child to me. I love her so much,” explains her father, “and that is why I want her to get married.”
For generations of Pokot women, their journey has been the same; on reaching sexual maturity they are brutally initiated into their sex through FGM. Courtship, a dowry paid to the girl’s family, marriage and pregnancy will then follow.
Veronica, a Pokot girl who has already been cut, thinks she is about 15. She is also heavily pregnant and tragically uniformed about what lies ahead for her as a circumcised woman who must give birth. There is a sweetness and innocence in her smile that makes what she will go through all the more heart breaking.
Yet attitudes are changing. For girls like Gertrude and Nancy, who dream of a brighter, better educated future, who refuse to be subjected to the same fate as Veronica and so many others before them, there is both help and support.
In central Pokot we meet members of a grassroots, self-help organisation dedicated to finding an end to FGM by changing attitudes and giving girls the opportunity to undergo an alternative rite of passage.
Kepsteno Rotwo (Abandon the knife) ‘gives girls a chance to become women without being cut’. Almost two hundred girls from the surrounding area, including Nancy and Gertrude, attend their residential programme, which includes inspirational talks from un-circumcised women and education about FGM, and culminates in a ceremony which marks the girl’s entrance into womanhood and their ability to be both mature and uncut.
Whilst progress may be painfully slow in some places the ultimate message of ‘I will never be cut’ is a positive one. We are given food for thought on how, by changing attitudes towards a woman’s worth, the next generation can change attitudes towards FGM. Organisations like ‘Abandon the Knife’ strive to popularise the message that an educated girl is of more value to her family, her community and herself than a cut girl.
As more and more girls refuse to have their wings clipped in this brutal fashion, it becomes more and more difficult for their voices to go unheard. It is education — of the girls and their communities — which will ultimately lead to an end to FGM. As Nancy says; ‘Now we know there is no shame in being un-cut. I refuse to witness my mother’s suffering and then to repeat the cycle.’
28 Too Many’s Country Profile on FGM in Kenya was published in May 2013. It provides detailed information on the background and current situation for FGM in Kenya as well as reporting on the progress being made to reduce and eventually the practice