A Tradition That Branded Me

By Severina Lemachokoti

I chose to tell this particular story about my experience with Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) because the story defines me, who I am, and shows what my culture/tradition branded me with. The story reflects the reality of what I went through and what I felt as a little girl. This is my other life that no one knows unless I share it with them. Sharing my story at the Sahiyo Stories workshop was a bit hard, but at the same time, it was a relief because I shared it with women who can relate to my hurt, women who have gone through painful and traumatic experiences as other FGM survivors. I felt comfortable and at ease with my sisters. I enjoyed the sisterhood, the courage, and passion that each of them embraced during the entire time. The storytelling process was smooth and very educative. I was able to revise my own story and put it in a way that I am confident will make a difference to our communities.

My advocacy on FGM is primarily focused on community education and the mental health of the survivors. As an activist, I believe that FGM will end when our communities are educated on the negative effects of FGM and find alternative ways of celebrating cultural practices without cutting girls’ genitalia. I am also aware that it is the right of each community to uphold their traditions and beliefs, but culture should not violate the rights of young girls in any way either. The mental health of survivors is a critical issue that needs to be looked into and addressed. Most of us are traumatized and still bear the pain of the cut even after so many years and it is necessary that survivors get healed in order for them to step up and talk about FGM in a way that can save other young girls who are at a risk.

My story is not very different from those of other survivors, but at the same time, I

Severina with Lena Khandwala at Sahiyo Stories Workshop

believe I am unique and so my story is unique because of the painful experience and feelings that I had during the cutting. My hope is that my story and the stories of my other sisters will change our communities. I am looking forward to working with various organizations and individuals to see that our girls are free from FGM across the world. I will basically do my activism work till the end of my days, and advocate for supporting the mental health of FGC survivors across the world.

To learn more about Sahiyo Stories, read:

More about Severina:

17904081_1414046985328334_8283055367043356965_nSeverina Lemachokoti is an anti-FGM campaigner, a human rights defender and a gender activist from the Samburu community in Northern Kenya. Severina graduated from Wichita State University, Kansas State with a Master’s Degree in Liberal Studies, with focus on Community Psychology, Sociology and Women Studies. She was the Cultural Ambassador- Kenya, at Wichita State University and participated in various activities that fostered diversity and inclusion. She worked as a graduate research assistant in the Criminal Justice department and also worked at the graduate office as a receptionist. Severina is a professionally trained teacher and holds a bachelor’s degree in counseling psychology and a higher diploma in psychological counseling. As one of the survivors of FGM, Severina uses her own experience to educate young girls from Kenya and her community to say “NO” to FGM and other harmful cultural practices. She has helped in changing the lives of young girls and women in her community through mentorship programs in schools and churches. Severina worked as a program officer for the ANTI-FGM Board, a government body under the ministry of gender to implement the ANTI-FGM act of 2011 and the 2010 constitution of Kenya to protect the rights of young girls in Kenya. Severina is a member of various organizations in Kenya and Africa that defend the rights of young girls and has spoken in various conferences including the UN on the rights of young indigenous girls and women.

A Kenyan Woman’s Take on FGM/FGC in the Bohra Community

By Zarina Patel

Country of Residence: Kenya    

Age: 81 years

I only very recently heard a fleeting mention of FGM being practiced in the Bohra Community in my country, Kenya. It was in a group conversation where I was adamantly protesting against the FGM still being inflicted on Kenyan women in spite of it being an illegal procedure in Kenyan law since 2011.

It was my first time to hear the word ‘khatna’. Though I am a Bohra thankfully my late parents did not subject me to it. And so hush-hush is this ritual that my subsequent enquiries bore no fruit. But in the process, I came across SAHIYO – a windfall.

FGM or FGC, extensive or minimal, is today recognized by the United Nations as a human rights violation and is one of many manifestations of gender inequality. To drag an innocent young girl child into a dark room and forcefully inflict this wound on her body; subject her to excruciating pain and most probably tell her never to speak about it as if she has committed a crime – surely this is unacceptable by any standard of human behaviour. I think any caring and ethical person will agree that it is a violation.

I am interested in looking at some of the more analytical aspects of FGM in our community.

First of all, I cannot help wondering why male circumcision is an event celebrated with much feasting and publicity, while its female equivalent is often done so secretively and in such isolation. The only reason I can think of is that those who perform, or arrange for, this latter act know that it is both criminal and unjustifiable and that no young girl would agree to it if asked.

Male circumcision is performed to remove the foreskin of the male organ and in this day of HIV infections male circumcision has proved to be highly beneficial; even men in our Luo community (which is often referred to as the community of the uncircumcised) are embarking on it. The World Health Organization states ‘compelling evidence’ in support of this. There are no proven health benefits for FGC.

Often, female circumcision is performed to reduce, if not eliminate the sexual ‘urge’. There are those who claim the opposite – that FGM enhances sexual pleasure because you are exposing the clitoris even more so, but this assertion cannot stand up to scientific reasoning. Can there be a better example of patriarchal domination and discrimination? And please note, the clitoris is one of the centres of sexual pleasure, NOT the urge which precedes the act. The urge is the result of the hormones racing through our bodies which the Almighty created.

I would earnestly request my sisters, and the concerned menfolk, to give some serious thought to the practice of FGM/FGC and not to blindly follow some religious or traditional edict. After all, even in Islam directives made some 1400 years ago are being reviewed: Examples are the attainment of talak (divorce) by just three utterances (by the husband of course!) being made unlawful and the conditions for marrying  four wives being made almost impossible to fulfil.

And lastly do keep in mind that the practice of FGM is much older than Islam, it was already prevalent in the time of the Prophet Abraham. And it is not only Muslims who practice it; several one-time animist and now largely Christian ethnic communities also inflict this violation on their women. FGM is practiced in 30 countries in the world. One of the major propaganda tools used by our founding Kenyan president, Jomo Kenyatta, in his struggle against British colonialism was to urge his people to resist the order of the white Christian missionaries and the colonial officers for the banning of female circumcision. In those historical times the order was viewed as a form of cultural imperialism.

In one of the videos available on the SAHIYO site, a woman who performs this vile act claims, when asked the purpose of this procedure, that it promotes moral behaviour. She actually states that the Bohra community has a much lower incidence of extra marital sex and adultery by women compared to other communities in India. Really? Has she carried out a survey, done the required research on this topic? Has anyone for that matter? It would certainly be a very interesting study but almost impossible in my reckoning – which woman is going to admit to a researcher (or anyone) that she is sexually ‘free’?

I do hope that we are well past the age of just believing when we now have the educational tools to analyse issues and understand the processes. Is it not Islam of all religions that urges its followers to search for enlightenment even if it means travelling to the ends of the earth?