A guest blog by Helen Harwood.
Recently I watched ‘The Day I Will Never Forget’. This documentary by acclaimed film maker Kim Longinotto follows a number of women in Kenya around the theme of female genital mutilation (FGM).
We start with happy scenes as a young bride prepares for her wedding day. This tiny woman dressed in a white dress, has her hair styled and her legs painted. She talks about her desire for a home of her own. She hopes her husband will be kind to her. After the dancing and fun we find ourselves in Nurse Fardhosa’s clinic. Fardhosa talks to the young bride and hears about the problems she has with urinating and periods. The hole, left after she was sewn up during her mutilation, is so small. For a few minutes we watch horrified as the nurse attempts to open up the vagina of this young woman, which was sewn up when she was eight. How sad any young girl is required to go through this; but worse is to come. The nurse, unable to open her vagina, asked her husband if it could be done under anaesthetic at the hospital. To my utter surprise he says ‘No.’ He told the nurse it would bring shame on him if his wife had to go to hospital and his friends would laugh at him. Despite the possible complications he offers to do it himself. He stated that according to his religion it was the husband who made decisions about his wife. Yet when Fardhosa asked him to tell her where it was in the Koran, he said he did not know.
Nurse Fardhosa is trying to challenge the practice of FGM. She meets with a group of women and listens as they discuss the topic, which they describe as ‘circumcision’. The argument seems to be, it was done to me, so I did it to my daughters. The clitoris is viewed as something ugly and dirty. The fear is that a woman who still has her clitoris might be tempted to sleep with any man she speaks to.
We (the viewer) witness two young girls being genitally mutilated on camera. The father seems to be concerned; he doesn’t want the girls stitched. He seems like a caring and loving father and it is this most bizarre of feelings - amongst the loving family portrayed there is this most appallingly ritual. We do not see the implement used, or any blood or private parts; somehow the whole procedure is shown without a drop of blood in sight. The horror for me was that one child watched while her sister was cut; she knew what would happen to her next.
Fardhosa visits the girls later and takes them gifts. Watching these children as they get excited to receive towels and soap seems very tragic! The parents obviously love their girls very much; the father is concerned they finish their schooling. It shows the starkness, this is a practice that affects whole communities. To be different, to be called ‘the uncircumcised one’ is very shameful.
The documentary moves to Fouzia, who has written a poem about her ‘D’ day, the poem is called ‘The Day I Will Never Forget’. The pain Fouzia experienced will never be forgotten. In her dream she said she ‘...could see an old lady with many blades doing it again and again.’ Fouzia says to her mother if she will not ‘circumcise’ her little sister she will forgive her. Fouzia’s mother says she will not ‘circumcise’ her younger daughter, but then describes how she feels unable to make such a choice, she fears judgement from God.
At a shelter for girls in Nairobi we meet Simalo who was cut and didn’t heal properly. She was taken to live with an old man in the night, forced to go where she was raped and told if she went home, her mother would bring her back. She stayed there for two days and then ran away. She is now returning to her village to see family and church members, but Simalo does not want to see her mother. The heartbreak and destruction caused by these practices within families is terrible. On arrival in the village Simalo’s mother greets her in tears but Simalo is totally cold to her. The mother appears baffled, having been told that her daughter was dead. There seems to be a real clash of cultures and worlds as old practices are seen in a different light by new generations. Older generations seem slightly lost in their understanding; there appears to be open space, ready for education.
Simalo has the opportunity to go to the Huruma Boarding school. It is very touching to see the relationship of the social worker and Simalo. Someone who seems to understand what she has been through.
The documentary ends with a group of Kenyan girls who have taken refuge in the Maraquet School, where they pledge that they will take their parents to court and get an order to stop themselves from being cut against their will. One of the girls who is taking her parents to court, tells the lawyer her mother ‘circumcises’ girls as a job.
I won’t tell you how things go for Simalo in her new school or how the court case pans out. I’d like you to watch this very moving and well-made documentary for yourself. I expect you will be shocked, saddened and moved.
The views I have of this film are of course my own, from my own cultural perspective, but when you watch the film you get to hear the voices of many different women, with different views. These are African women talking about African women. Whatever anyone thinks of my views, it is the views of the women themselves that speak through this film. There is so much more I could say but I think the documentary speaks for itself, it speaks with the voices of these young women. A new generation of women are emerging in Kenya, instead of saying of FGM 'It was done to me so I will do it to my daughters', young women are saying 'It was done to me, I don’t want it done to my younger sisters' and others are saying ‘I don’t want it done to me’. There is hope, may it flower and not be crushed.
If you would like to join the growing movement to end FGM and help all girls and women be safe, healthy and live free from FGM please donate to help our work to eradicate this harmful practice.