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'I was haunted by the blood I caused by circumcising girls'

Almost 3,000 girls living in Ireland could be at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation.

Cholonge edited Cheposalawich Cholongosia ActionAid ActionAid

ALMOST 3,000 GIRLS living in Ireland could be at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation.

FGM refers to the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. The practice is most common in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and carried out for cultural or religious reasons.

Unicef data states that at least 200 million girls and women in 30 countries worldwide have undergone the extremely painful procedure.

Three women’s rights leaders were in Ireland this week to discuss how they are trying to stop FGM – also referred to as cutting – in their region.

An ActionAid study carried out in 2016 found that 2,639 girls living in Ireland may currently be at risk of undergoing the practice. Thousands more have undergone FGM before moving to Ireland.

Marlboro Street, Cork edited Dinah, Susan and Cholonge (Cheposalawich's nickname) on Marlboro Street in Cork ActionAid ActionAid

During the week the women visited migrant communities in Cork to share their experiences. The ActionAid programme they lead in Kongelai in northern Kenya, funded by Irish Aid, has reduced FGM by 27% in the region in the last six years.

The network now has over 1,000 women who are helping eradicate FGM.

Women who carry out the practice are known as cutters. Cheposalawich Cholongosia cut about 60 girls over the course of a decade, some as young as 10 years old. She is now a champion for ending the practice and has convinced three other cutters to abandon FGM.

I was haunted by the innocent blood that I caused by circumcising girls and women before I left the practice. I want to reach out to other circumcisers and help them abandon the practice.

Speaking to, she recalls: “As I was growing up, my grandmother did it. There’s a societal expectation and cultural responsibility … When I was a teenage girl my mother did it as well. It’s passed on from generation to generation.”

Cutters generally do not perform the practice on their own children.

“My mother did not circumcise me, she reached out to another woman to come and do it,” Cholongosia, who is also known as Cholonge, tells us.

Growing up in that environment, I wouldn’t question it. It was a normal experience for a girl, she would not be married off if she was not circumcised. Some girls looked forward to the cutting being done so they could move on and get married and have children.

Cholongosia, now 47, doesn’t recall the exact age she married, but says she was aged between 14 and 16. Her husband was in his late 40s at the time. He was already married to three other women.

The couple went on to have six children – three girls and three boys. All of the girls were cut.

Dinah, Susan, Cholonge Cork editedjpg Dinah, Susan and Cholonge in Cork, where they met with migrant communities ActionAid ActionAid

Cholongosia was respected in her community because she was a cutter, but she started to have serious doubts about the practice.

I was called a hero in public but in the evening, when I was alone in the house with my husband, the blood kept on haunting me. It felt like my hands were shaking, the sound of the girls screaming would affect me at night. Over time it had this psychological effect on me.

Her husband was supportive when she told him about her worries and encouraged her to stop cutting.

She finally decided to stop the practice after coming into contact with the ActionAid programme in Kongelai, where she and other women were taught about the negative impact FGM has on girls, children’s rights, and legal issues with the practice.

Severe pain and infection 

Immediate complications from FGM include severe pain, shock, haemorrhaging, tetanus, infection, fever and septicemia.

Long-term consequences include complications during childbirth, anaemia, the formation of cysts and abscesses, urinary incontinence, painful sexual intercourse, hypersensitivity of the genital area and increased risk of HIV transmission, as well as psychological effects.

Cholongosia said it was initially somewhat difficult for the network to “challenge cultural practices”, but over time it gained more and more support in the community.

She wants FGM to be eradicated from Kenya in the next decade or so, noting: “If we reduced it in six years by 27% (in our community), it’s possible to eradicate it in Kenya in the next 10 to 15 years.”

She says no single approach will be successful in this regard, with a multisectoral approach involving education for both females and males, training and law enforcement needed.

Susan, facilitator Ola, Dinah and Cholonge in Direct Provisison Centre in COrk Susan, facilitator Ola Bakinson, Dinah and Cholonge in Kinsale, Cork ActionAid ActionAid

Susan Cheyech Alukulem, a farmer who chairs the Kongelai women’s network on a voluntary basis, was also in Ireland this week.

As part of her role she accompanies survivors of FGM to the police, the children’s welfare office and school administrations. She also trains and advises vulnerable girls and women, and fosters girls during school holidays.

“I want to save my girls and many other girls and women from the pain I went through. I want my girls and other girls to pursue their education something that I was denied because of female genital mutilation,” she explains.

Dinah Chepkemei Nyorsok, Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns Capacity Building Coordinator with ActionAid Kenya, established the women’s network.

In order to eradicate FGM in Ireland, she encourages the use of visual aids to disseminate information on  the pratice and its effects, and stresses the importance of learning from communities that have abandoned cutting.

“Share information among those practicing it, target the decision makers in the communities that practice it,” she says.

The women were visiting Ireland and Belgium as part of ActionAid’s AFTER (Against Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting Through Empowerment and Rejection) project funded by the European Union.

The project was initiated last year to work with migrant women and girls from FGM/cutting-practicing countries. The project is being implemented across five European countries (Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Sweden) by six partners.

ActionAid is a member of Ireland’s National Steering Committee on FGM. It will host a public screening of the documentary Girls From Earth in Filmbase in Temple Bar, Dublin 2, at 4pm tomorrow. Following this there will be a Q&A session with the three women. For more information about the screening, click here.

Read: Lack of FGM training: ‘Irish doctors and nurses can be at a loss over what to do’

Read: “A human rights violaton, worse than child abuse” – committee on genital mutilation wants action from gardaí

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