Female circumcision – women must have the right to choose – says Dr. Fuambai Sia Ahmadu

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 February 2015

Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, PhDRecently, a senior minister in the Koroma government of Sierra Leone – the Minister of Gender and Social Welfare – Moijueh Kaikai, said unequivocally that female circumcision will not be abolished, echoing the views of most politicians,and perhaps that of millions of people up and down the country. (Photo: Female Rights Activist – Dr. Fuambai Sia Ahmadu).

And as the global debate continues intensely, there is a consensus emerging between those calling for banning of the practice and those defending the right of women to choose.

This emerging consensus is based on the general acceptance that female circumcision should be out of bounds for children.

But what is not clear is the determination as to the acceptable age at which consent can be deemed to have been given by a young woman. Hence the principle of consent and the capacity to give such consent, cannot be swept under the carpet by either side of the debate, as a blanket ban seems simply impractical and against the tenets of civil liberty.

Sierra Leone Telegraph’s Washington correspondent Dennis Kabatto caught up with Sierra Leonean-American medical anthropologist and female rights activist -Dr. Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, who is calling for an end to what she describes as Zero Tolerance Propaganda Campaign. This is what she told Dennis Kabbatto.

DK: Dr. Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, you recently participated in the BBC television Hardtalk debate. How did that come about? 

Dr Fuambai Sia Ahmadu - left founder of African Women are Free to Choose debate - Nimco Ali-right - co-founder of Daughters of Eve on BBC Hardtalk (2)I was invited by the producers of Hardtalk to take part in a discussion on what I refer to as female circumcision, alongside Nimco Ali, a campaigner against what she and other opponents call FGM. (Photo: Fuambai – left, and Nimco – right). 

It was a very intense debate, but I think enlightening for a lot of viewers who never once thought there was another side to “FGM”.

DK: How will the Zero Tolerance for FGM Act of 2015 impact the traditional practice of female circumcision in America?

Traditional female circumcision is virtually unheard of today in America.  Anti-FGM activists manufacture the most outrageous statistics on the risk of FGM in the U.S, as well as unfounded claims regarding an underground trafficking of girls from the U.S to Africa for “vacation cutting”.

Mainstream media outlets clearly do not feel obligated to do simple fact checking or due diligence when it comes to such reports.

Twenty plus years ago, there were some African immigrant women who were keen on maintaining this aspect of their culture, and few were able to financially and logistically take their daughters to their home countries in Africa for female initiation or female circumcision. This is what happened in my case, but it was a rare occurrence in our communities even then.  

DK: Although FGM is banned in the United States, a new CDC report released in January says the number of women and girls in USA at risk of FGM have tripled over the last 25 years. Is that a victory for ‘African Women Are Free to Choose (AWAFC)’?

The recent CDC report that over 500,000 girls are at risk of FGM in the US is completely and I believe deliberately misleading.  The purpose is to provide for the anti-FGM NGO – Equality Now, the data it needs to bolster its lobbying efforts to pass the Zero Tolerance for Anti-FGM Act of 2015. This will guarantee allocation of funds and resources towards Director Shelby Quast’s inflated income and other activities in the U.S.  In other words, ‘Equality Now’ wants money and will stop at nothing to get it. 

All the experts I know, submitted their concerns about the methods being used by CDC to calculate FGM risk and the initial report’s gross exaggeration of these figures.  

The numbers used by the CDC are based on African women, who are already circumcised, the prevalence of the practice in their countries of origin and the erroneous assumption that they will circumcise their daughters when they immigrate to the US.

There is no evidence to substantiate the assumptions that are made in the report.  Further, this report is ultimately attributing a priori criminality to certain groups of African women, and advocating for a dangerous form of racial or ethnic profiling, targeting African and Muslim communities.  

We intend to make our concerns about this CDC report known to anti-FGM activists, the mainstream media, policymakers and all relevant stakeholders in the U.S administration as well as within our own communities.  

I am not sure what you mean by whether this is a victory of AWAFC.  We are not here to spread female circumcision in the US or anywhere in the world. Our key mission is to create awareness about the negative psychosocial and psychosexual impact of harmful anti-FGM campaigns, legislation and global policies.  

AWAFC is also concerned with creating dialogue on ways to preserve the rights of all affected adult women and adolescent girls to their own bodies, to self-determination and to equality with other adult women and adolescent girls worldwide. 

DK: What is your reaction to the Gambia’s recent ban of FGM?  What are the implications for people who practice the tradition in that country? 

Yahya-Jammeh

I believe President Yayah Jammeh (Photo) had his reasons for taking such a surprise and potentially unpopular decision, in a country where the vast majority of women are circumcised and celebrate this tradition in large, open initiation ceremonies.  

President Jammeh is a shrewd and savvy quasi dictator.  He is well aware that Gambian women in western countries can apply for and receive automatic asylum on gender based violence claims, with respect to FGM.  

This recent executive decision has effectively closed the door to his most vocal critics and opponents in the UK and US. I also lean on believing his sincerity, when he says this practice is not sanctioned by Islam and that he is genuinely concerned about the health implications for girls and women.

There’s a lot of ignorance and misinformation about the varied forms of female circumcision in relation to Islam, as well as well purported health and sexual outcomes.  Most people, like President Jammeh, are regrettably misled by the media and activist led anti-FGM propaganda.

AWAFC was created to end this insidious disinformation and to hold the media and anti-FGM activists accountable for what they print, say and do.     

As far as implications for the practice – an important Senegambian study funded by UNICEF clearly indicated that the law has little effect on the practice because it is driven underground.  

A Gambian friend recently told me that what we will see is an end to the open celebrations (similar to what is happening now in Kenya), but the operations will continue.

This most certainly means that girls will be circumcised at younger and younger ages, and that their health and lives will be at the mercy of greedy quacks instead of highly trained traditional circumcisers or medical practitioners. 

DK: UNICEF estimates 24 out of 29 countries where FGM is practiced have passed laws against it. Do you think it would be outlawed in Sierra Leone?  

Absolutely not and we will certainly lobby hard against this new form of neocolonialism in Sierra Leone. What is the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) going to do, lock up 80% of the population of women?  

Are the predominantly male policemen going to arrest their grandmothers, mothers, sisters, wives and so on? 

Bondo2The Minister of Gender and Social Welfare, Hon. Moijueh Kaikai, stated unequivocally to a group of Soweis (the women leaders in charge of traditional female initiation and circumcision) that Bondo will not be banned in Sierra Leone.

Bondo is the local term for female circumcision.  However, the GoSL appears to be ambivalent about its position and intentions, but my hope is President Ernest Bai Koroma will continue to listen to the voices of grassroots women who make up the bulk of voters in the country.

We are officially launching AWAFC in Freetown very soon and we intend to work closely with GoSL on a way forward that will advance and protect the rights of all women and girls on both sides of this issue.

Western orchestrated anti-FGM laws have had no impact on a practice that dates back thousands of years. We have seen that in those countries  in Africa that have passed such laws.  

While our African governments are busy succumbing to pressure from western women to outlaw our traditional female genital aesthetic practices, western countries have developed a flourishing female genital cosmetic surgery industry, using our own operations as the aesthetic standard.

And, instead of fighting to defend the rights of our mothers and grandmothers, many of us who are western educated have given carte blanche for them to be stripped, degraded and punished by and for the sake of the very white women whose own mothers and daughters are now freely opting for the same procedures.

 I have always said, Sierra Leone is the ground zero where modern western feminism meets the power of ancient Bondo society.  As you can see, I’ve placed my bets on Bondo.

You can watch the BBC Hardtalk debate here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mV6UfEaZHBE 

11 Comments

  1. Santhkie Sorie: All the proponents of FGM, including Fuambai Ahmadu have gone mute on the topic, except you. But, Africa is now waking up to its many incredible mistakes and making the necessary or needed corrections, especially on this age-old traditional female genital mutilation (FGM) that has not one medical benefit whatsoever to its many sufferers.

    Notwithstanding, I am a little happy to remind readers that it is now “unlawful” in Sierra Leone for any girl under 18 years of age to be subjected to this crude traditional practice.

    Like it or not, it is what it is at the moment, until the end of Bondo in the country.

    Please help me pray and praise the Lord Jesus Christ for answering to our prayers on the total elimination of Bondo in Salone, which has just begun. Amen.

    By the way, any comment on this Hadith of Muslim Prophet Muhammad to female circumcisers aka Soweis?

    Book 41, Number 5251: Narrated Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah:

    “A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.”

  2. Now I know where Mustache has based himself for his argument on the Bondo Society. I think he should be closely watched, otherwise not only Sierra Leone , but Africa as a whole is in trouble.

    The gentleman is need of a reminder that even the best doctors make mistakes and people lose their lives.

    A CNN commentator is not one that I would allow to influence me on what has been part of me for centuries. Westerners undergo all kinds of surgery , like plastic surgery, for whatever reason. Africa does not condemn them for that, and their respective societies accept it. Women undergo surgery to boost their breasts which occasionally leads to diseases, such as cancer. No African commentator has ever tutored them for that.

    If you don’t like Bondo Mustache live it alone, but allow others to be free. “It is part of our culture” First lady , Siah Koroma, told some visiting Westerners a few years ago. I gave her a huge hug from a distance. She knows who she is. A kono, and extremely proud of it.

  3. Zeinab:I am glad to read from you on FGM. Yes, I am a Sierra Leonean and have an aunt with the same name as yours, but spelt differently. Her name is Jenabu.

    My wife and I live in the United States. We have a daughter, who is 21 years old and uncircumcised. Her mom, my wife, had a very painful experience with FGM at the time of initiation. At that very moment, she lost to death her dearly beloved sister during the group cutting of their clitorises.

    I guess you now know why I am totally against this crude operation or traditional practice done on women anywhere and everywhere for that matter. It is wickedness to the highest degree and must be stopped at all cost. Whether done with or without anesthetics, it is still wickedness. And there is no peace for the wicked says God’s word, the Holy Bible.

    Furthermore, I see no reason why a woman must be subjected to this kind of ill treatment that makes her shed blood, some profusely. The Bible speaks clearly against it. And thanks be to God for making the Muslim President of The Gambia to ban it completely.

    Please see below an article by Nick Thompson of CNN on Female Genital Mutilation in Egypt, and learn something from it.

    Female Genital Mutilation: Why Egyptian girls fear the summer.

    Updated 1:22 PM ET, Thu June 25, 2015

    The practice was banned in 2008, but Egypt predicts that more than half of girls in the future will be submitted to FGM. Here, in a photo provided to CNN by the UNFPA, children attend school in Assiut on February 1st, 2015.

    U.N. agencies have adopted a school-based model to try to educate girls about the procedure. Here, in a photo provided to CNN by the UNFPA, a group of girls stand outside the Society of Islamic Center near Sohag on January 31.

    Most Egyptian girls are cut, as it is often called, between the ages of nine and 12.

    More women have undergone FGM in Egypt than anywhere else in the world. 92% of married women aged 15 to 49 have had the procedure. Anti-FGM campaigners believe they’re turning the tide on the practice

    Cairo, Egypt (CNN) Summer days: They’re what childhood memories are made of, glorious afternoons of unchecked freedom to frolic with friends in the sun, unshackled from the earthly obligations of a math class that never seemed further away.

    But for millions of schoolgirls in Egypt, this time of year represents something much darker: the start of the female genital mutilation (FGM) season.

    Mona Mohamed was 10 years old when she underwent what’s also known as a female circumcision on a hot summer day in her village in Upper Egypt.

    “I was terrified,” she said. “They tied me down, my mother on one hand and my grandmother on the other.”

    As Mona thrashed around, pinned by her loved ones to the living room floor, a doctor injected her with anesthesia.

    Mona remembers being given a piece of bubble gum to chew on before she finally passed out. It wasn’t until she woke up that she realized she had been mutilated.

    Stories like Mona’s are far from rare in Egypt, where “cutting” has been a brutal rite of passage for young girls since the time of the pharaohs.

    Of the more than 125 million girls and women alive today who have undergone the procedure, one in four live in Egypt. That’s more than any other country in the world, according to the U.N.

    Ninety-two percent of married Egyptian women aged 15 to 49 have been subjected to FGM, according to a government report released in May. That figure is down from 97% in 2000, but the practice is still the norm here.

    Most girls are cut between the ages of nine and 12, and the operations usually take place during the summer school break so the girls can recover at home.

    U.N. officials say FGM has no medical benefits and can cause lifelong physical and emotional trauma for the women forced to undergo the procedure.

    “This is a gross human rights violation,” Jaime Nadal-Roig, the U.N. Population Fund representative in Cairo, told CNN. “It doesn’t add anything to the life of the girl, and there are no medical or religious grounds whatsoever.”

    The most common FGM procedure in Egypt is Type 1, the partial or full removal of the clitoris. It’s what Mona Mohamed — and her older sisters — endured years ago.

    Compared to her sisters, Mona was lucky, given that her procedure was performed by a doctor. Her sisters were circumcised with a razor blade by a traditional (non-medical) midwife who put dust on their wounds to stop the bleeding.

    Mona, now 47, recalls asking her mother why getting circumcised was so important. “Usually girls at your age get ‘excited,’ and this operation takes care of that,” her mother replied.

    FGM has been illegal in Egypt since 2008, but the practice remains woven into the very fabric of Egyptian society, where many see cutting as a way to “purify” a girl and make her marriage material.

    “People used to have a party after a girl was circumcised, they’d celebrate and exchange gifts,” Nadal-Roig said. “So for them to turn from there and say, ‘look this is a crime or this is a sin or this is not allowed by religion’ means confronting a lot of beliefs and social norms.”

    But progress is being made. The percentage of girls aged 15 to 17 who have had the procedure has dropped from 74.4% in 2008 to 61% in 2014 — a clear sign that the drive to end FGM is working, campaigners say.

    Last week Egypt announced a plan to reduce FGM by 10-15% in the next five years. If it works, it will mean that for the first time in decades, “uncut” girls would outnumber those who have had the procedure.

    “It’s an ambitious plan, but now I think that the political atmosphere is supporting us and we can reach our goal,” said Vivian Fouad, the National Population Council official leading the government’s charge to eradicate FGM.

    “For years we were on (the) defense, but now we’re on the offensive.”

    The fight to eradicate FGM in Egypt is unfolding on a number of fronts, from the courts to the places of worship to the streets of the highest-risk towns.

    In January a doctor was sentenced on charges related to mutilating a girl — the first conviction of its kind since the 2008 ban went into effect.

    The verdict was a victory for the anti-FGM campaign, but Fouad says too many doctors are still willing to take the money from families and look the other way when it comes to the law.

    “It’s a good income for doctors,” Fouad said. “And some doctors have social and cultural backgrounds where FGM is supported.”

    Fouad classifies the battle against female circumcision as a fight for the middle class: “If doctors, judges, prosecutors, and teachers are supporting FGM, how are we going to convince poorer women not to have it?”

    Campaigners are also trying to persuade local religious leaders to stop preaching the alleged benefits of FGM to mothers. It’s often a tough sell in a country where more than half of women still believe, falsely, that cutting is required by religion, according to the most recent survey.

    “You need to make people not want to do it for their daughters,” said UNFPA program officer Germain Haddad. “You need to work on people’s convictions.”

    To that end, the UNFPA has hired a theater group to perform comedic skits in the streets of communities across the country to foster debate — and doubt — about the necessity of FGM.

    “Many of these people are shy,” said Haddad. “When we used to do seminars on FGM it was very difficult to get people to speak up and ask questions.

    “These plays act as an icebreaker that opens up the subject like magic,” she said. “And women get to see in a comedic way that FGM is ridiculous.”

    “I hate the man that did this to me.” But it remains an uphill struggle. Around six in 10 women think the practice should continue, according to the most recent government survey.

    “It’s tradition, and there’s no escape,” says Sarah Abulaziz Mohamed, who was circumcised at 12 in her village of Mansour.

    “It hurt my dignity — I was forced to do this act that I didn’t want to do,” she said. “I hate the man that did this to me.”

    Sarah is 40 now and has two young daughters of her own. She says FGM left her with lifelong psychological trauma, but at least it taught her a valuable lesson.

    “I definitely wouldn’t do it to my daughters by any means,” she said. “To this day I still have pain, and what’s gone is gone … that part of me can never be given back again.”

  4. The Interagency Statement on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation; courtesy of the UN.

    [Requests for permission to reproduce or translate WHO publications – whether for sale or for noncommercial distribution – should be addressed to WHO Press, at the above address (fax: +41 22 791 4806; e-mail: permissions@who.int…The responsibility for the interpretation and use of the material lies with the reader. In no event shall the World Health Organization be liable for damages arising from its use.]

    The term ‘female genital mutilation’ (also called ‘female genital cutting’ and ‘female genital
    mutilation/cutting’) refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external
    female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

    Between 100 and 140 million girls and women in the world are estimated to have undergone such procedures, and 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk of undergoing the procedures every year. Female genital mutilation has been reported to occur in all parts of the world, but it is most prevalent in: the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, some countries in Asia and the Middle East and among certain immigrant communities in North America and Europe.

    Female genital mutilation has no known health benefits. On the contrary, it is known to be harmful to girls and women in many ways. First and foremost, it is painful and traumatic. The removal of or damage to healthy, normal genital tissue interferes with the natural functioning of the body and causes several immediate and long-term health consequences.

    For example, babies born to women who have undergone female genital mutilation suffer a higher rate of neonatal death compared with babies born to women who have not undergone the procedure.

    Communities that practise female genital mutilation report a variety of social and religious reasons for continuing with it. Seen from a human rights perspective, the practice reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.

    Female genital mutilation is nearly always carried out on minors and is therefore a violation of the rights of the child. The practice also violates the rights to health, security and physical integrity of the person, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

    Decades of prevention work undertaken by local communities, governments, and national and international organizations have contributed to a reduction in the prevalence of female genital mutilation in some areas. Communities that have employed a process of collective decision making have been able to abandon the practice. Indeed, if the practising communities decide themselves to abandon female genital mutilation, the practice can be eliminated very rapidly.

    Several governments have passed laws against the practice, and where these laws have been complemented by culturally-sensitive education and public awareness-raising activities, the practice has declined. National and international organizations have played a key role in advocating against the practice and generating data that confirm its harmful consequences.

    The African Union’s Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, and its Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa constitute a major contribution to the promotion of gender equality and the elimination of female genital mutilation.

    However, despite some successes, the overall rate of decline in the prevalence of female genital
    mutilation has been slow. It is therefore a global imperative to strengthen work for the elimination of this practice, which is essential for the achievement of many of the Millennium Development Goals.

    This Statement is a call to all States, international and national organizations, civil society and
    communities to uphold the rights of girls and women. It also call on those bodies and communities to develop, strengthen, and support specific and concrete actions directed towards ending female genital mutilation.

    On behalf of our respective agencies, we reaffirm our commitment to the elimination of female
    genital mutilation within a generation.

    Note: The following UN agencies were involved in writing down this resolution. They include OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNECA, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNIFEM, WHO.

    Question: What wrong has the clitoris committed that it must be tampered with and chopped off from a woman? Absolutely none! Please leave it alone in peace.

    In sum, female genital cutting is an age-old inhumane traditional practice that must be stopped at all cost. As much as the Ernest Koroma’s Government has ratified the Maputo, Mozambique protocol on the rights of women thereby criminalizing FGM on children under age 18, more still needs to be done to outrightly ban Bondo countrywide. For Bondo is a traditional act of wickedness that leads to, among others, excruciating pain and bloodshed. And life is in the blood. See Leviticus 17:11.

    Please know that the Bible says: “1. There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked. 2. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” Isaiah 57:21, and Mark 7:8 respectively. Amen.

    • With respect, you are a man, an American and a Jew. What can you possibly know of our traditions? Have you even been intimate with a circumcised woman?

  5. I write as an Egyptian woman resident in the UK, rather than a Sierra Leonean woman and as a practising doctor.

    It is my personal opinion that the tradition of female circumcision as practised in Sierra Leone is wholly positive. It prevents masturbation and lesbianism, makes the genitals cleaner and more beautiful, but does not endanger health or unborn children.

    Sometimes people confuse circumcision with infibulation, which is practised in rural areas in my country and elsewhere in Africa. This in my view is harmful and should be considered only when a girl or woman is entirely out of control and needs it for her own protection.

    But the clitoris is of no use in marriage and motherhood and serves only to make a woman like a man. I believe in the Bondo tradition it is removed, together with the inner labia. This is a very similar tradition to the one followed by middle-class families in my country, and which I was privileged to experience myself in my 11th year.

    I salute the brave academic Fuambai Ahmadu for fighting for African women’s right to self determination, including the right to continue to celebrate this wonderful tradition, which has been so helpful to so many of us before and during marriage.

  6. Mustache can say all he wants to say – using the scriptures in the process – to corroborate and reinforce his position. It is his right , and I shall fight for him to continue to express himself the way he wishes.

    But I still maintain that Sierra Leoneans alone, must decide what happens to anything that has been with them for centuries. This calls for a sustained debate in which everybody participates, particularly the ethnic groups, like the Mendes, Temenes, Lokos, Limbas, etc, who are engaged in the the Bondo Society [ I refuse to call it F.G.M.].

    It may take a few hours, a whole day or much longer than that , but once a consensus is struck, the majority of the population will be on board. And with such a development, the peace in Sierra Leone is enhanced.

    Where did the notion of F.G.M. – as you call it Mustache, originate from ? In Africa ?

    Please do some thorough research on this, and let the rest of us know. With your seemingly potent argument, I would like you to travel a few miles north of Freetown to bring your case to rest. Please do not, do not, travel to where north and south intersect.

    It is quite frightening how some people are ready to distort religion and culture, while intoxicated by self-exaltation. This only breeds animosity, discord ,divisions and finally instability.

    Now it is Bondo. Next time, it will be Poro. Next time it will be Hunting – the Hunting Society. Next time it will be something else, all designed to divert our attention to other endeavours, which keep us firmly rooted below the economic ladder of the world, thereby sending us begging all over the place, as if we are devoid of pride.

    Before too long the hidden hands, without allowing us an iota of debate , will come up with a phrase to tell sub-Sahara Africa that gay marriage is perfectly natural.

    I still stand by Fuambai Ahmadu, and very pleased about how she unnerves certain people – giving them cardiac problems.

  7. There are 16 countries in West Africa. Six of which have outlawed female circumcision as a traditional practice without imperialism or external intervention. They include Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Nigeria and The Gambia. Soon and very soon there will be no more Bondo or Sande in Sierra Leone. Amen.

    Fuambai Ahmadu must be completely frazzled on hearing that female circumcision is witchcraft practiced in broad daylight. Only animists practice FGM. And eat food in the bush called ‘jomboi’ with cooked clitoris(es) in palm oil. It is a secret kept on oath not to discuss it. I was shocked when I heard about it.

    Yes, father Abraham and his household were circumcised with the cutting only of the foreskin and not the male genitalia. However, this procedure was by no means extended to his wife Sarah. [Genesis 17:10-27; cf Luke 1:59-64.] Even the Quran does not promote female circumcision at all.

    “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

    Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:19-21 (NIV).”

    Please see below an article by Timothy La Rose on FGM in Guinea:

    In Guinea, renouncing the family tradition of female genital mutilation

    Mme. Doumbouya tosses her curved knife onto the dirt while speaking about her decision to abandon her former role as a ‘baradjeli’, a traditional performer of female genital mutilation or excision.

    A woman in Guinea rejects a customary practice handed down to her through generations – and shows that communities are critical in raising awareness about the dangers of FGM/C.

    LABE, Guinea, 11 February 2014 – Madame Doumbouya was in her early twenties when her grandmother passed away. The heirlooms passed down to her included red robes, a traditional mirror encased in leather and decorated in seashells, and a sharp, curved knife.

    Mme. Doumbouya was to take over her grandmother’s profession as a baradjeli – the Fulani term for the woman who performs the ritualized practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) on young girls.

    “Families have traditional trades. Some are tailors, some are farmers. Excision was my family custom,” she explains.

    There was no formal education programme for her profession. She learned the techniques on the job. “It is a matter of seeing how it’s done and overcoming the fear to do it yourself,” she says. “I never had any medical training.”

    She was hardly compensated for this difficult work. “I did get paid, but the money was more of a gesture. The people who would bring the girls would give some tokens of appreciation.”

    During her time as a practicing baradjeli, Mme. Doumbouya cut more girls than she can remember. They were mostly 7 to 10 years old. They came to her in groups or individually, always escorted by family members who insisted on the procedure.

    “Usually it’s the mothers or aunts or the grandmothers who bring the girls to get cut,” she says. “The men do not bring the girls. The men go with the boys.”

    Village women attend the event at which Mme. Doumbouya spoke. “For the ones that I’ve already cut, I cannot repair it,” she said. “But I can stop doing it. I will never do it again.”
    FGM/C is a rite of passage in Guinea, where 96 per cent of girls are cut – most before age 15. Following the procedure, the community where Mme. Doumbouya practiced would hold big celebrations.

    “When the girls are coming out of the process, when they are healed, it is a big ceremony. The parents spend a lot of money, even more than in a marriage, because now their parents want their girls to be the most well-dressed,” she explains. “It’s sort of a competition.”

    As part of the global fight to end FGM/C, UNICEF in Guinea supports organizations that promote awareness-raising activities about the realities of FGM/C. UNICEF partner organization Tostan has had notable success in teaching communities to reject FGM/C – 74 communities recently made public commitments to renounce it entirely. With the support of religious and political leaders, villagers declared that they would never allow FGM/C in their communities again.

    After many years as a baradjeli, Mme. Doumbouya denounced her family’s traditional practice. “I used to think that cutting girls was for the benefit of the community, but I learned from Tostan that I was just hurting them,” she says.

    Before a village gathering, she spoke publicly about her regrets in participating in cutting. She tore off the red robes of the baradjeli, tossed the curved knife onto the dirt, and threw down her mirror, a charm used to give her confidence to perform her duties.

    “For the ones that I’ve already cut, I cannot repair it. But I can stop doing it. I will never do it again,” she said. “I ask all baradjeli to stop giving the girls more pain because there is already enough pain in a woman’s life. There is pain during pregnancy and delivery, and that is enough for a woman. Don’t give them more.”

    What this ceremony and the story of Mme. Doumbouya demonstrate is that community-based advocacy for human rights can work. Despite inheriting a tradition her family had followed for generations, Mme. Doumbouya was not aware of the risks of FGM/C to girls. She was not aware that cutting does not achieve the desired intention. She was not aware that FGM is not a religious requirement. And she had no idea that it has been illegal in Guinea since 1965.

    Community empowerment activities that educate people on the dangers of FGM/C, both physical and psychological, as well as programmes for the former baradjeli to provide gainful employment, are not costly – but unfortunately a funding shortfall in Guinea has prevented the larger expansion of successful programmes like the ones UNICEF and Tostan have established here.

  8. Fuambai Ahmadu and Nenneh Bangura have become heroins to me for their courage and assertiveness.

    I have followed Fuambai’s activities for the past few years on the subject of the Bondo Society, and she has not wavered, always ready to take on those who either do not know who they are, or know who they are but the environment in which they find themselves has so altered the structure of their brain that they are fast losing some of their capabilities and abilities.

    It is the same process which the chicken has undergone to make it unable to fly, even with fully grown feathers. For that progressive handicap, it finds itself on our plate – almost on a daily basis – as a good source of protein.

    The Bondo Society has been with us for centuries, perhaps since the beginning of recorded time, if we intend to uphold the fact that Africa is the cradle of mankind.

    Fuambai , is merely upholding what was there before she came along, and will be there after she has gone. It is part of her identity and would be damned if she compromised it because the wailing coming from some foreign capitals, whose nationals cannot even pronounce the name Sierra Leone.

    Fuambai , like a significant number of us – perhaps the majority – are incensed when foreigners have the nerve to want to push us around with their hidden imperialistic or neo-colonialist intrigues, in the firm belief that we are all gullible.

    They are forever trying to sow divisions , animosity and recriminations in so-called sub-Sahara-Africa to create instability.

    Nenneh Bangura’s piece touches the heart of what I have always felt, that we , as a people, must plot our own future, especially when it comes to our cultural values. If we want to ban Bondo, Poro, Wondai, Orjeh or hunting Societies, we alone have the right to do it in our time.

    We do not want the input of any foreigners or their paid puppets or those who have lost their roots.

  9. Esther Koroma: In as much as you say that female circumcision must not be for children, but do you know that Fuambai Ahmadu’s younger sister was only eight years old when circumcised after her clitoris anesthetized?

    Additionally, what do you mean by: “Banning anything on religious grounds is a No No.?” Please explain and help me understand you in this regard.

    Let me leave you with these two Bible verses, below, to think about and see if they can be extrapolated to FGM.

    “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:29-30 (NIV).”

    Yes, The Sierra Leone Telegraph deserves the acknowledgment for letting us do these exchanges with civility on issues, including female circumcision aka Bondo, affecting our country. Thank you very much.

  10. Alan Luke said: “Why anyone else should have the right to cut of organs which are created for a purpose is beyond me.”

    It is none of your damn business sir. What women do with and to their body parts has nothing to do with you or any government. Next you will be demanding that anyone using their right hand instead of their left hand must have their right hand cut off.

    Please leave African women alone to do what we think is good for us. Children must not be cut I agree. But I am a grown woman and if I want to cut so be it. None of your business ok?

    Thank you.

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