Editing office - Geneva
International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation
200 million survivors raise their arms. Victorious voices break centuries of silence, and solidarity transforms pain into memory. This is the world dreamed of by the women leading the movement to end female genital mutilation (FGM). This is the world they’ll create. Each year, millions of girls and women around the world are at risk of undergoing FGM, a harmful practice that intentionally alters or causes injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. While the customs and traditions that perpetuate FGM vary from community to community, the procedure is generally carried out sometime between infancy and age 15, and it has serious socio-economic, physical, emotional, sexual and health consequences, including death. Together with child marriage, which similarly affects hundreds of millions of girls worldwide, FGM is a practice that must end, and the charge must be led by survivors and individuals from impacted communities. Strengthened by their own experiences, invaluable insights and years of local wisdom, survivors and affected community members are uniquely positioned to unpack cultural nuances, re-shape narratives and find solutions to end FGM. These are the voices we must hear. On International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, 6 February, here are four women, among many, many more, who are fighting for girlhoods free of FGM.
The first of her kind
Purity Soinato Oiyie stands tall with confidence. A traditional beaded Maasai headpiece drapes down from the crown of her head, and her bold, beaded necklace reads: “Stop FGM.” She’s a leader in her community and a women’s rights advocate, and her journey here has been against all odds. “I was only 10 or 11 years old, when my father decided to circumcise me. I was to become the fifth wife to a 70-year-old man. I talked to my class teacher and she informed the police chief. Just two hours before the cutting ceremony, the police came and took me away,” she recalls. Oiyie was the first girl in her village to say no to FGM. In the eight years that followed, Oiyie lived in a rescue center in Narok, Kenya far from all that was familiar. “The hardest thing for me was leaving home, leaving my family. I couldn’t sleep…I would wake up in the middle of the night and think, should I go back and get FGM?” she says. For Oiyie and thousands of girls with similar stories, her escape impacted her family dynamics, and the consequences weighed heavy on her shoulders. “My father started beating my mother at home, blaming her for my escape. But my mother didn’t want me to go back and get circumcised. I stayed in the rescue centre and finished school.” Finishing school was a crucial step in Oiyie’s journey because it allowed her to define her own path. Today, Oiyie works with an anti-FGM Board to help raise awareness in local villages about the harmful consequences of the traditional practice. She says, “It’s difficult to convince people to stop FGM because it’s a cultural practice. I go to the schools and talk to the girls and the teachers, I talk to the Maasai people in our language. I show them videos of FGM, make them aware of its effects, and tell them about the importance of education,” and adds that, “They are surprised to see an educated Maasai girl.” While Oiyie is proud of the work she does to empower girls and parents to reject this harmful practice, she is also pushing for deeper transformation in her community. Knowing first-hand the complexity of the situation, she explains that, “…what we need is free education for girls. The Maasai are pastoral people, and many parents don’t have money to send their girls to school.” Oiye dreams of building a free school for the girls of her village, and she stresses the importance of the inclusive of young married girls and mothers. “Being women, we deserve this right. It’s ours.”