Sadia Sango Hussein hails from Tana River County in Coastal Kenya. At the age of 10 she underwent the cut and to date she remembers the pain she experienced, coupled up with the trauma and other complications that followed. Today, she is an anti-FGM advocate who is working tirelessly in #FightingTheCut in Tana River County and beyond. She uses her social media platforms to drive the conversation about the need to #EndFGM. She has also written and sang a song that encourages the communities to abandon the practice.
Having reached out to her, we had the following conversation
What is the prevalence of FGM in your county?
There is no accurate data since no research has been done in the county. However there are three major communities namely:-
a) The Pokomo, which comprises of Muslims & Christians and do not practice FGM at all.
b) The Wardei (my community) which practices FGM 100% and are Muslims.
c) The Orma which practice FGM 100% and are also Muslims.
d) The Wailwana previously known as the Malakote. They are Muslims & minority tribe and practice FGM 100%
e) The Munyoyaya; They are Muslims & minority tribe and they practice FGM 100%
f) The Watta; They are Muslims & minority tribe previously hunters & gathered, which practice FGM 100%
g) The Bajuni; They are Muslim & minority tribe and they do not practice FGM.
Which communities practice it, and for what reasons?
“Five communities practice FGM and it is widespread across the three sub counties, Galole, Garsen and Bura.
Sometimes I wonder why these five communities practice FGM and the excuse being that it is a religious act in Islam. But I question why the Pokomo and Bajuni do not practice FGM yet they are also Muslims. I realized that FGM has nothing to do with Religion. It is a preserved culture and tradition that has been practiced for decades with Religion being an excuse.”
I’m a survivor and was cut at the age of 10. The pain, agony, trauma and the sharpness of the blade are still fresh in my mind. I went through complications during my first delivery in last week of November 2007. I wouldn’t want or allow other girls to become victims of FGM and go through the pain & agony I encountered. In 2008,after I completely healed and recovered fully, I walked and stood up to Say NO to FGM without fearing the consequences I had to face.
“I must say this:
FGM survivors escape death three times in their lives as follows:
i) During the cut, girls go through a lot of pain and shock.
The pain actually starts afresh after two hours. Your whole body starts shivering, you can’t even urinate because you still feel the smashing and the sharpness of the blade. There is a lot of bleeding and no nutrition is given to the girls, nor medication to heal the wound.
Psychological effects like trauma and depression folloows until others drop out of school because their life is shattered.
Sometimes menses don’t come out as required and thus develop into fibroids and this has left many women barren.
ii) During 1st night of marriage.
Due to the stitching and infibulation, many girls are sent back to the cutters for reopening and taken back to their husbands while bleeding, with the wound being fresh once again.
Now you can imagine, is this torture? Is it punishment? Honeymoon? Or what?
iii) During delivery
Due to the infibulation, women have to go through terrible cut of scissors to enable passage of the child. Some are lucky and give birth to their loved ones/babies safely. Some lose their babies due to prolonged labour and lack of enough passage. Some end up operated. Others lose their lives while being referred to neighboring hospitals. Others develop fistula.”
What have you been able to achieve?
“As an individual, I broke all odds of tradition whereby a woman cannot speak before men but I do. I changed my family’s perception and are now fully supporting me. I campaign through social media both twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp against this practice. I also wrote and sang two #EndFGM songs both in Kiswahili and English.
At my own individual capacity, I managed to give two cutters 12 (twelve) Goats each with assistance from the then DC Mr. Wanyama Musiambo in 2009. The two cutters have transformed, submitted their tools and declared publicly FGM abandonment. They are now my great campaigners.
An entire village in Watta known as Watta Hamesa is now free from the cut after I trained the cutter who happens to be one of the beneficiaries of the 12 goats in 2009. Today in that village are many girls who have not undergone the cut and are married and others working in the county government.
I lead a Dayaa women group as coordinator. This is a group of volunteers who are committed to #EndFGM. We do community outreaches and dialogues. Holding Radio talk shows, roadshows and capacity building training of stakeholders, youth, cutters & Religious leaders.
Youths are now speaking up and supporting the campaign. I met a group of young men from a village telling me that they are ready to break the barrier on FGM and will assure that they will marry uncut girls. This is a big plus and hope for me after so many years. Female Genital Mutilation still infringes the rights of innocent girls because of fear that uncut girls won’t be married. Now the scenario is different if young men declare in public and assure the community of marrying uncut girls! FGM will be history and girls will enjoy their rights like education.”
What challenges exist in the fight against FGM?
“One major challenge is confusion. FGM is taken or perceived to be religious practice while in reality FGM is actually a pure cultural practice. Also, religious leaders are not coming out with one voice to call for ZERO TOLERANCE.
Resistance from men who happen to be community decision makers and have no idea of what women go through because of the cut is also a challenge.
There’s also the lack of financial support to cover every corner and part of the county which is my wish.”
Do you think FGM will be stamped out in Kenya?
Yes of course! I believe FGM will be history one day not in my county only but globally. A journey of thousand miles starts with one step. It may be slowly and may take years but I’m sure FGM will be abandoned inshaallah
It requires combined and collective responsibility to #EndFGM. Through the media, we can reach many people. For example one radio talk show can reach or cover a wide range of audience in the entire county.
I would like to thank GMC -Global Media Campaign to EndFGM for their support. Actually I was almost losing hope but they rebuilt my confidence after a media academy training at Kapenguria. I have high hopes more than ever.
I want to thank Dayaa women group members who volunteered and committed to #EndFGM with or without funds.
My appeal to NGOs is that they should support local/grassroot activists in the fight against FGM because they are based in the community and can create awareness with great impact at less cost. They just need facilitation to their activities no extra cost of salary and travel costs.”
There are many other anti-FGM activists like Sadia from other counties in Kenya. In our next articles in the #FightingTheCut series will feature some of them.