Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is the partial or total removal of parts of the female external genitalia. This often takes place with the consent of both parents and pressure or constant reminder from grandparents. A very painful procedure carried out without anaesthesia, which results in severe pain, excessive bleeding, shock and infections. FGM/C usually is done for various reasons including preservation of group identity, prevention of promiscuity of the female gender of such a group, furtherance of marriage goals and maintaining cleanliness among others.
“She asked me to shut up and stop asking many questions”
This was the response given to 9 year old Cynthia Omo, by her mom the day she was mutilated genitally. Her permission was not sought for this violation, and with this action, a vital part of her womanhood was taken from her. Events like this occur countless times each year in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
“This issue is really an emotional one for me not only because I am a man who might be deprived of the sexual bliss packaged in marriage but because I met with a victim who shared her experience with me. It was a very sad and heart-breaking interview. I couldn’t maintain eye contact as I couldn’t even come close to knowing how she felt during the procedure carried out about 14 years ago.” narrated Chibundum, Project Officer at PWID, a Community and Youths Development Initiative based in Imo State, Nigeria.
Cynthia Imonitie Omo, is a 23 year old young beautiful lady from Ekpoma in Edo State Nigeria. She’s the second child in a family of six.
How and where did it happen?
“I was cut when I was 9. It was a regular Easter visit to the village (Ewohimi) or so we thought. We settled in and the next day mum said we are going out. Just me, my sister and her.
Being the inquisitive one, I was wondering why she’d leave my younger brother behind. He was the baby of the house and she always took him around.
I was told to shut up and stop asking too many questions. We went to an old lady’s house. We were told to take off our clothes. Mum kept saying don’t worry, you’ll be fine’. I was cut with a blade and for a week we (me and my sister) bled and suffered pains when we tried to pee.
What role can you exactly say your mother play?
To the best of my knowledge, she thought she was doing the right thing. She just took us there in good faith. She couldn’t even watch us get cut, she left the place and came back after to clean us up.
Has this procedure affected you in any way? Please explain.
The impact this has had on me varies from one moment to another, location and the reality of the particular to the times really; but I’ve grown, so it’s easier now. At first it started with confusion. As a lady in a hostel with others, you get to see each other’s body from time to time so I saw that their vagina looked different. I couldn’t quite understand why because as at when the procedure was carried out, I didn’t know what it meant. Then I did some digging (inquisitive mind) and understood why. Then low self-esteem kicked in. I felt incomplete.
What type of procedure was carried out?
Type 1 (Total removal of the clitoris).
There are various types of FGM/C ranging from Type 1 to Type 4.
Type 1 involves partial or total excision of the skin surrounding the clitoris or of all of the clitoris, it is also called Clitorectomy.
Type 2 FGM/C also called excision entails removal of the entire clitoral muscle and part of the labia minora. Crude stitches may be used to control bleeding from the clitoral artery and mud poultices is applied directly on the perineum.
Type 3 also called infibulation, usually the most severe form of FGM/C involves removal of the entire clitoris, some or all of the labia minora are excised and incisions are made in the labia majora to create raw surfaces. This raw surface is then stitched to cover the urethra and vaginal introitus leaving a small posterior opening for urinary and menstrual flow. A firm band of tissue replaces the labia and obliteration of the urethra and vaginal openings.
Type 4 involves piercing, pricking or incision of the clitoris and labia, stretching of the clitoris or labia, cauterisation of the clitoris and scrapping or introducing corrosive substance into the vagina.
How were you able to overcome this?
I grew I guess. I read a good number of motivationals. Joyce Meyer helped. I survived on my faith.
How has the procedure affected your life in the now?
Like I said, I’m better for it now. But if you’re referring to my sexual life, I really can’t say. I’m celibate. From time to time, my partner and I read books and research on how I can enjoy sex when we get married.
Psychologically I’m fine. The thoughts come from time to time but I know better than to let it play out or affect me.
How has the support of your partner helped?
My partner has been super supportive and the fact that he is a Christian has helped too. We have consciously prayed and fasted that I heal both emotionally and psychologically.
Do you think men should be involved in issues concerning women’s health, especially in this context?
Yes, they should. Men have a say on what goes on in their family. A man can stand his ground with his wife. Most times, women are pressured by their family or in-laws to carry out this procedures but when such women have the backing of their husbands, they can boldly say NO and can withstand all pressures.
After discussing FGM/C and its effect with my younger brother, he’s a strong advocate now.
What advice can you proffer to thousands of young girls who have been through this?
I think one point that everyone needs to keep in mind is that there’s no point crying over spilt milk. Also as much as this act is condemned, it isn’t a death sentence. Life can still be enjoyed to its fullest and I mean that in every way including sexually. So get over it. Except there’s a serious complication then seek medical advice.
Reading about it helps too. You can fully understand your body and how it works when you read about it. So, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.
As a young woman, what should women do or improve on to shape a better Africa where gender equality is upheld and violence against women is ended.
I strongly believe in speaking out either for a cause, against a phenomenon or anything at all. A lot of issues, life issues, can be resolved if people just talked instead of adopting the “don’t talk about it” attitude.
I work for an NGO where we encourage rape victims to SPEAK UP and possibly identify the perpetrator.
In conclusion, if you feel cheated because of your gender, rise up against it and speak out. If you have experienced any form of violence, seek healing. Heal up and speak out. Don’t die in silence. You are never alone.
After this discussion with Cynthia, My will is further toughened and my stand is firmly established. No one should deprive the girl child of physical and sensual pleasure because they think the FEMALE shouldn’t indulge in them or whatever their reason may be. Our Creator gave them those physical qualities for a purpose and if they weren’t supposed to have them, they would not be born with them. Let’s stop playing GOD in a life we did not help create as we end up modifying to our human knowledge a supernatural design.
My heart beat is that we as individuals, groups and organizations try to contribute our quota to end FGM/C, Domestic Violence against Females, and Promote Gender Equality.