There has being a huge drive in many UK African communities in recent years, putting shame aside and telling their stories of the scars left on them by female genital mutilation (FGM). The pains were real and memories raw for all of the women especially those who went through the extreme form of FGM. Good news is that while we Africans live in denial and didn’t see what the fuss was, UK government got involved and fully support the campaign. From next month, University College London is opening a clinic to provide both Psychological and medical treatments for the FGM victims.
Afusat Saliu, a Nigerian seeking asylum after her visitor’s visa expired begged not to be deported from the UK on the basis that she feared her two daughters will be forced to undergo FGM in Nigeria. She lost her case and was deported in June this year.
Many online commentators especially Nigerians were not empathetic towards Afusat, saying her fear was unfounded that no one in Nigeria goes through extreme form of FGM. They said this out of ignorance.
As a Yoruba, I learnt from my mother that the type of circumcision in my region was type 1 supposedly the mild form of FGM – that does not make it any sensible in any sense. She described it as an incision on the clitoris deep enough to shed blood – the reasoning behind this was as barbaric as the act itself. My part of the Yoruba do not remove the clitoris and I still do not know what the point was.
That was my knowledge of Yoruba circumcision until…
I lived at Garage Olode, a small town in Osun State – only about 20miles from my hometown. My landlord had three wives and many children. Tanwa (11) and Ganiyat (10) were the youngest of the family from two mothers. Both girls were charming, Tanwa especially was always full of excitements, always had lots to tell. She was the only child of her mother hence the name Tanwa (Omotanwa meaning the child we have been searching for).
One day, Tanwa knocked on my door in the early hour of the morning, opening the door for her, with terrifying look on her face, she ran passed me to the floor where Kemi laid, she was sobbing – Tanwa and Ganiyat were to be cut in the next 4 hours.
The mothers were not supposed to tell their girls but Tanwa’s mother knowing what she went through before having her could not keep the secret. She narrated the whole gory story to Tanwa, Tanwa was scared, had nowhere to go, she ran to my friend and I thinking we might be able to save her – we did not.
The old lady in her sixties was the assigned “torturer” of the young girls. Needless to say, hygiene was the last on the list. The tools – blades and a couple of small knives were wrapped in a dirt soaked ankara print. Tanwa was held down by four people among of which was one of her teenage half brothers (talk about incest), and three female members of the family. Some black concoction was rubbed on Tanwa’s private part but whatever that was did nothing to subdue the pain. A second later, Tanwa let out the loudest sound ever, she felt every inch of the cut – it was not a normal cry, it was shrieking sound that suggest she hated everyone and everything around her. Her clitoral hood was removed, I saw the woman held it tight between her callous thumb and index fingers, it was bloody. Kemi and I looked on in disgust but felt powerless. The whole exercise took place in the open backyard a few steps away from the bush where everyone used as toilet.
Tanwa healed quickly in a matter of days, but for the next three months that I was in the house I noticed she had lost something – a bit of herself. She was timid and less of a chatter girl she once was. Alhaji thought her timidness was a sign that she has become a woman – seemed like emotional scar to me.
Tanwa’s family were originally from Iwo – a town in Osun state well known for the Arabic/Islamic education. Is the teenage girl circumcision peculiar to people from Iwo town? Or just the majority Muslim in town? Why is the practice different from the rest of Yoruba?
Whatever the answer was, we can only help the voiceless by shedding lights about the potential danger of this needless and harmful tradition.
Afusat Saliu’s fear is valid and Nigeria need many more people like her to tell their stories, not for the purpose of getting abode in a foreign land but to serve as pointers to where girls circumcision is still rife within the country.
Attitude towards FGM has changed in the last 20 years however, we we are not there yet as the practice is going on in small towns and villages in significant numbers.
Here is another article I wrote about recent circumcision gone wrong in my hometown.