When ActionAid recently went to a remote part of Kenya they met Pauline, 15, who told her utterly compelling and yet terrifying story about her experience of FGM and forced marriage. Pauline was keen to speak out and is really passionate about spreading the word. She was only ten when she got the cut – she didn’t know what it was going to entail or what it would lead to. She never wants it to happen to her own daughter or any other girl she knows. She almost died in childbirth due to complications resulting from it.
Why am I telling you about this now? Well, it’s what’s called the ‘the cutting season’. This is the time when girls and young women here in the UK are sent to countries they have often never been to in order to have this frankly horrifying procedure. FGM is the partial or full cutting of a girl’s clitoris and labia, for non-medical reasons, usually on minors as young as four and no older than twelve. The procedure can cause severe bleeding, infection, infertility and even death.
This is happening to girls who live in the same cities as you and me. They could be our children’s classmates. There are incredible organisations like Forward and FGM Aware amongst many others who campaign about this issue in the UK, but it also goes on in many countries that ActionAid works in around the world too. Which is why ActionAid, as an international charity, is putting the spotlight on this again. Because it must end – now.
In 2014 ActionAid supported 483 community-led projects to protect women and girls from harmful traditional practices as FGM. They have also mobilised 151,000 women to challenge violence and harmful traditional practices. What does this mean? ActionAid enables women and girls to stand up for their rights by teaching about this in schools, creating women’s groups where women share their experiences and watch out for each other. They also learn coping mechanisms so that they can progress with their lives as independent women.
Pauline is 15 years old, has a daughter who is just over a year, Faith, and is currently pregnant. She had the cut at 10 as her parents were alcoholics so couldn’t afford for her to be in school. She didn’t know what having the cut would lead to.
“I didn’t even know which part of the body was going to be cut. I didn’t know that the cut meant that I would then be forced to be married. I only realised that when I was in the group of girls who I underwent the cut with.”
Pauline was woken at 4am and taken away. She was told not to cry. She was sat on a stone facing east and then the first girl was cut and then the next and then the next one after another. After they were cut they had their legs tied with lace both beneath the knees and upwards to their thighs. They stayed there for three months. In this room, first suffering from shock was when Pauline discovered what the cut actually meant – that she was now ready for marriage.
Pauline’s husband is much older than her and she’s his second wife. He’s often absent which means she has to be incredibly independent and fend for herself by finding food for herself.
How does ActionAid help?
Pauline is now a member of a women’s group who educate both young girls and women about the dangers and repercussions of issues such as FGM. As far as she’s concerned, no daughter of hers will ever go through the cut.
Pauline barely makes ends meet by selling charcoal at the local market when she can find it, and dreams of a better life where she will run her own business.
ActionAid urgently need your help to spread the word about this appeal. They need donations to provide safe houses and education for girls to inform them before they are cut.
Please help ActionAid put an end to female genital mutilation now #endFGM