I was only ten years old when I faced the cruel side of my culture. My trauma created a burden in my heart to deliver my sisters from the claws of this monster, Female Genital Mutilation, a deep desire to change the culture, something that has never been done easily.
Written by Olela Tonny
I was only ten years old when I faced the cruel side of my culture. If I were a painter, I would clearly depict the horrible occurrence in colours of horror. The blade, the blood, the beastly women, the pain and the cold nights are remarkable epitaphs on the grave of my dignity as a woman. As they believed it, this was the only prerequisite to transition into adulthood. Girls who failed to go through it were considered cowards, of a lesser material to be a wife and at times, outcasts of the culture, attributes that no one would wish on her daughter, let alone herself. A cut, the size of sorghum grain, had to be made on the clitoris of a young girl. There were old women who specialised in doing this job. There was only one blade which was used for all who came for the initiation ceremony. As the culture dictated, this was a way of fostering unity and responsibility.
Cultural provisions were a preserve of men, women had no say. And so, all the talks I attempted to hold with my mother prior to the "knife" were fruitless. Instead, she encouraged me to make a brave go at it, in order to draw more cattle for my dowry. As much as she never liked the memories that accompanied her cut, she only wished there could be a way out for her beloved daughter. Just what could a woman do in a culture that deems her to be of equal value to the beasts of burden? Perhaps even cows have a higher value than a woman.
Decades have rolled by since I ran away from home to escape early marriage during a harvest season. Having reached "maturity", I was only fit to be married to a man the age of my father, who was considered wealthy because he had large herds of cattle. So, marrying me off to him was regarded as a "fortune" to my family. Yes, my dignity, destiny and dreams of succeeding through education had to be sacrificed at the altar of the said "fortune".
I left home one evening after darkness had settled over the land. The risk of walking alone at night instilled lesser fear as compared to the pain of losing my dignity and destiny. I knew that I had found a safe haven when I landed in the hands of Mrs Makau, the matron of Agallo Bwangu Children's Home. This became my home for the rest of my early years of learning, till my secondary and tertiary years.
As I battled the trauma of dissociation from my family on the grounds of culture, I learnt that many girls were suffering the same but did not have the courage to brave through the risk like I did. Perhaps, my mother too had to concede defeat to this battle. My trauma created a burden in my heart to deliver my village sisters from the claws of this monster, Female Genital Mutilation. A deep desire was stirred in me, the desire to change the culture, something that has never been done easily.
Mrs Makau, my foster mother at the children's home, was the perfect partner in driving my dream plan. Through her, I got connected to Alive Africa, an organisation that champions for schooling girl children from pastoral communities. I submitted a working proposal to the organisation on campaigns against Female Genital Mutilation. It has been seven years since the inception of this campaign. The burden in my heart has become lighter because a total of 0.9 million girls have been liberated from this bondage.
The network keeps growing as more girls join the campaign. The beastly women have downed their tools and they too joined the campaign after a fruitful deliberation. In partnership with the local administration, people have been made aware of Female Genital Mutilation in most gatherings including Chief's barazas, educational gatherings, political gatherings, churches and major addresses. I am a free woman because while my scar may remain with me, victory is seen in the lives of the many girls liberated.
Olela Tonny is a young active Anti-FGM Activist, youth policy and gender advocate. He is optimistic, resilient, a visionary, and entrepreneurial-minded. He has 7 years of progressive experience in advocacy by supporting the implementation of programmes, administration, mentorship, and project coordination, monitoring and evaluation, and training.