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Dublin: 14 °C Wednesday 26 September, 2018
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'I used a razor blade and often cut ten girls a day'

There are over 140 million girls and woman across the world with cut genitals and this dangerous and painful practice continues today.

Source: Meeri Koutaniemi

During the summer months, I often cut ten girls a day. I used a razor blade to remove the clitoris and labia. After that, the girls were fit to become brides. No man wanted to marry a girl who had not been cut. In our eyes, girls like that were dirt.

WOTO WOMACHO WAS a well respected circumciser in her village in Ethiopia. She had been taught by her grandmother and by the age of 20, she was making a living out of cutting girls in the surrounding area.

As far as she was concerned, she was doing the right thing. She herself had been cut at the age of 4.

“Giving birth was painful for me. Intercourse with my husband was also painful and I did not feel pleasure. At times, this depressed me. “However, I did not understand my problems were a direct consequence of FGM,” she said.

I treated cuts and infections with ashes and cow manure. One time, a girl almost died of blood loss in my arms.

When Plan International came to her village, she was persuaded to take part in meetings where she learned the consequences of female genital mutilation: pain, infections, difficult childbirths, spreading of the HIV virus.

I began to understand I was being paid and respected for something that was against the law of God. This was a painful realisation. I lost everything that had earned me my status and respect. I have deeply regretted my old life. All those reasons for which I cut girls, were superstition. These beliefs are sustained by men who want to control women’s sexuality.

Consequences

There are over 140 million girls and women with cut genitals in the world. Most female genital mutilation is carried out in 29 African countries and in the Middle East with almost half of the women who have been victims of this practice living in Egypt and Ethiopia.

Many are cut with unsterilised blades that have been used on dozens of other girls before – some of whom were HIV positive.

The cutting can cause heavy bleeding and painful scarring. In countries where the practice is illegal, parents who still insist on their daughters’ circumcision are then often too afraid to take them to hospital if something goes wrong.

On the verge of death

Moussa Cissé is another person who changed his mind about FGM once he understood how harmful it is. The 66-year-old father of eleven is a religious leader in South West Mali. All six of his daughters were excised before they got married.

I remember the day my youngest daughter underwent excision. She suffered severe bleeding. On the way to the hospital, many thoughts went through my head. I was sad to see her suffer so much and I was afraid of losing her. My daughter was on the verge of death.

Cissé said he never really accepted excision in his mind, but as a religious leader, he felt he had to set a good example by respecting the custom.

“I never had the courage to oppose this ancient practice, which physically and emotionally affects our daughters.”

‘People think we are not clean’

Today is International Day for the Eradication of FGM and Plan Ireland’s CEO David Dalton said it is a reminder to us all that the fight to end it is ongoing.

“Despite legislative bans being out in place in recent years, many countries ignore the law of the land and allow FGM to take place. Progress has been made, but the lives of millions of girls are still at risk,” said Dalton.

There are no rational reasons – religious, medical or otherwise, to perform this cruel, painful and ultimately damaging act on innocent girls.

The organisation has a number of initiatives, including ‘The Uncut Girls Club’ which empowers girls so they can educate their friends, parents and others in their community about the dangers of FGM, thus avoiding the procedure themselves.

Dorite, who is 14 and a member of the club, said it is not always easy for girls who are uncut.

“When we go to get water from the well or when we are walking to school, people point at us and laugh, because we have not been cut according to the tradition. Some people think that we are not clean and obedient.”

However the girls are well aware of the potentially devastating consequences of being cut. They are determined to change things for themselves and for the other girls in their communities.

“If my future husband wants to have a cut bride, I will refuse to have FGM,” commented 12-year-old Weyinitu. “I will try to explain to him the consequences of FGM. He can marry me only if he understands my decision.”

Read: ‘It comes down to private parts of a woman, cut out and kept as trophies.’>

Photos: Why these 9 women stopped carrying out female genital mutilation on young girls>

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