By Kezia Bianca- YWCA of Kenya
My name is Keziah Bianca, I am 22 years old and work at the YWCA of Kenya – Kisii branch. Kisii is a place renowned for practicing female genital mutilation and as a girl who grew up here, I was not an exception. I cannot blame my family for making me go through this inhuman act, as the society dictates it. In my culture it was considered unclean for a girl not to go through the practice.
The reason why I am writing this is to say to the girls who faced female genital mutilation like me, to still trust in life and a brighter future. It doesn’t matter what happened, or how your past has been, you can still have a future if you stand up and let your voice be heard. Talk about how you feel and also protect the young girls who may be facing the wrath of the knife as you and I did.
Allow me to take you through my personal experiences of Female genital mutilation (FGM) as I am a survivor of a clitoridectomy.
My community practices FGM type one which is partial or total removal of the clitoris, because they believe that the clitoris is unclean as it makes one sexually active. I strongly oppose this and believe that refraining from sexual relations before marriage is all about one’s attitude and values and it does not have anything to do with the removal of the clitoris.
I remember 7 years ago as if it was yesterday. The scar still remains fresh in me. I really didn’t want to go through FGM, but because in my village all the girls of my age set had gone through it, I didn’t have any option but to follow the community traditions and it’s the community that dictates, not you. It was on the 7th December 1997 when all this happened to me. It was 5 in the morning when I heard some women talking outside our house. I didn’t know that they had come for me, to create a scar of a lifetime. Innocently like a sheep to be taken to a slaughter house, one woman came and told me that I should wake up as it was my day to become a woman. I didn’t believe my ears but because she insisted, I woke up. I felt some kind of fear and felt like my whole body had frozen. She took me outside where women were singing songs and ululating. By that time my mother was nowhere to be seen, at least to see the state I was in and to help me. All I wanted at that particular point was to see her so that she could see the pain in my eyes and tell them to let me be. But I think she could not have helped me because she thought that it was a rite of passage that I should go through.
According to my community during this fateful day, your mother is not supposed to be present as they believe you will cry and call her for help and as a woman who bears the pain of giving birth, a mother can’t stand to see the pain that you are going through. Together with me in that group there was my friend, I could see in her eyes too the fear she had but we could not help each other as we were so young and were not given a chance to say NO. They sang songs while taking us behind our house and we were made to sit on a very cold stone. Because of the fear, I refused to be the first to sit so I stood there staring at the stone, and it was such a cold morning. My friend was made to sit first and I watched her go through the cut and this is one thing that is still fresh in my mind. Then after my friend it was my turn, they took a piece of cloth, tied it around my eyes and held my head back and then they gave me another piece which they put in my mouth so that I could bite it during the whole process to ease the pain. Two women held my legs and hands so tight that I could not move. Still from the background I could hear the women singing and I felt that they were celebrating my pain, but the real reason for the songs was to diffuse the cries so that nobody can hear me crying. Then I felt a very sharp pain between my legs. This was a turning point in my life. The pain I felt can’t be described; thinking of it brings cold shivers inside me. I was circumcised, I felt incomplete and completely out of control. I could not control the tears from my eyes as they spoke the magnitude of the pain that I was feeling. After that I was taken in a house where I sat in a room crying and cursed. The pain I was going through was unbearable. At the back of my mind so many questions were going through my head: what will happen after this? Will this pain ever leave my life? Will I be able to walk again in my life? So many questions crossed my mind. I was made to stay in that room for three weeks and was not allowed to shower for the entire three weeks. It was also not good for me to be seen as they believed that I would heal faster if nobody saw me, especially a man, except the special woman who was taking care of us. My life took a complete turn, I felt wasted and hopeless – the rest is history.
Because of the pain and agony I went through, it made me take the resolution to stand up and fight for the rights of the girl child. I believe that if by the time I underwent FGM, I had known its dangers I could not have gone through with it. That’s why I resolved to join the YWCA of Kenya and advocate for the rights of girls and young women and give them a future minus regrets, a future where they can stand up for their rights and the rights of others. A future where they can say No and be heard by society.
At the YWCA of Kenya – kisii branch, we have this programme where we train young girls from the age of 10 and above on alternative rights of passage, how to say NO to FGM and also on their rights as girls and young women. At the end of the training they graduate and are awarded with a certificate to show that they have gone through a stage of their life that qualifies them as circumcised but still gives them a chance to continue their education. We also train parents and circumcisers on the effects of FGM and what the law says about circumcising girls. The circumcisers are also taken through business skills training and ways of starting alternative income generating activities, as most of them claim that it’s only through circumcising girls that they feed their families. I can say that as an organisation we have played an important role in educating the community and the practice has drastically reduced, there are now minimal cases reported. We also have youth programmes where we empower them with information on their sexuality and how they can make a change in their communities.
FGM is an inhuman act which affects a girl’s biological make-up. As a girl I strongly believe that I have the responsibility to protect young girls from this act. To end these harmful practices and advance more equitable social harms, programmes and schools should address the issue early in the life of girls in order to alter the cultural expectations. Women and men should be made aware of the fact that living free of violence is a basic human right. Also, well-meaning parents who view FGM as a way to prepare daughters for marriage should change their behaviour and recognize that the practice is a violation of the rights of girls.
As a girl who went through FGM, I believe that there is a future for me and I have a purpose in life. My advice to all girls who experienced FGM is that there is still light at the end of the tunnel. Life has to go on. Our society believes that once you have gone through FGM you are ready for marriage, but it all depends on your priorities and what you want from life. You can still bury your traditions and walk with your head up high. When I was circumcised I was only 15, I had a dream of educating my community on the dangers of FGM, and I wanted to be an example by telling them how it feels when you abuse the rights of the girl child. Let us come out openly and be ready to stand up for the rights of the girl child. it takes efforts to tell the world that FGM is outdated and outlawed. I am still accomplishing my dream and I can’t stop until FGM becomes history in our community.
Through the YWCA of Kenya, I was given an opportunity to be part of a youth exchange programme called Communication for Change (CFC). My new job in Norway allowed me to learn that you can make the change that you want to see in the world despite your background, your culture or your past. Before I joined this exchange programme, I still had faith that I could fight FGM on the community level without being ashamed to use my story as an example of the injustices that the girl child goes through. As a girl who went through FGM, don’t sit back fearing what the world will think about you now that you are circumcised. Stand up! Make your voice heard and help other young girls out there. It is my hope that this story will give you hope and convince you that must still give a lot to the world to make a change.