Female genital mutilation (FGM), or simply female circumcision, will always be one of the most horrific experiences I had from my country, The Gambia. There are many ethnic groups in the Gambia, among which are Mandingo (42%), Fula (18%), Wolof (16%), Jola (10%), just to name a few. FGM is highly practiced by most of these ethnic groups.
Growing up as a girl child, I was always conscious of FGM in my community. All young females from ethnic groups that practice FGM are expected to go through circumcision as some form of cleansing and a right of passage into womanhood. I was circumcised at age 8 years. A large number of girls are mostly put together in a group. My group, however, was smaller, containing only three girls, including myself.
The day came, and I was taken with the two other girls into a private room. I remember being nervous and scared the whole time. I was seated on a mat on the floor, waiting for my turn to be mutilated. The first girl in the group was laid on her back with knees bent, feet flat and legs spread apart. The old woman took an unsterilized razor and mutilated her. Next was me, and the same razor used on the first girl was used again to mutilate me. The pain was excruciating, and the bleeding was profuse. As I laid down crying uncontrollably with the first girl, we were given strict instructions to stop crying or face the consequence of being cut a second time. The third girl had a more complicated procedure. She was to go through mutilation and infibulation (removal of the labia minora and the inner surfaces of the labia majora which are then sewn together in such a way that only a small hole is left open for urine and menstrual blood to pass through).
For the next few days, we were routinely given sitz baths in the morning. The pain finally subsided for the first girl and I, who only went through mutilation. It took longer for the third girl because she had an extra procedure of infibulation. Her case was very complicated because she will have to go through a third procedure of removing the suturing in order to have sexual intercourse in the future.
Female genital mutilation has no medical or health benefits, and to this day, I wonder why the act was adopted in the first place. People often confuse traditional beliefs and practices with religious ones. FGM is neither an Islamic nor a Christian act. Instead, it is an inhumane practice that rips women of their pride, dignity, pleasure and good health. It is a big disappointment that the act of mutilation and infibulation is done by women on their fellow young females.
By Oumie Jatta.