September 7, 2022
Female circumcision is a type of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The World Health Organization defines Female Genital Mutilation as any activity involving the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or causing other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Female circumcision would be classified under Type 1 and 2 of FGM, which involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris glans and or labia minora of the female sexual organ. It is more commonly practiced in certain African countries, alongside a few other countries in Asia and the Middle East. Unfortunately, female circumcision was also a traditional practice for people of my tribe.
As mentioned earlier, my grandmother was uneducated and still held unto many traditional beliefs that have been debunked by modern science and medicine. She was still a proponent of female circumcision. She believed that once a woman grew to eighteen years, it was important for her to be circumcised. She told me nothing about this and I was not expecting it.
I knew the act was still practiced in our tribe and it usually involved the woman to be circumcised being taken to a local midwife (not a hospital), who would perform the procedure. When I turned eighteen, I was still living with my grandmother, so she woke me up one day and informed me that we would be going to see one of our aunts.
“Which aunty is that, mama?” I asked her.
“You don’t know her. Just clean up and get ready. We’re leaving by 9 a.m.,” she answered.
I trusted my grandmother implicitly and packed a small bag for a two-day trip. Following her, we locked the door and boarded a bus to a semi-rural area of Ekiti. My grandmother led me down the street before taking a right turn into a narrow path between neighboring houses. The area was swampy and after walking on small foot bridges and planks, we got to a white bungalow. Grandma went around to the front and I walked a few meters behind her. She knocked and waited for someone to open the door. It was a woman, who looked like she was around fifty years old.
“Mama, you’re here,” the woman exclaimed, curtseying and opening the door wider.
“Yes, let me in. Toritsefe, come with me.”
At this stage, I was wondering what we were doing here. I had no clue whatsoever. Two women stepped out from behind a curtain of beads into the living room where we were. One was a tall fat woman, with swimming body parts. The other was set heavily too, but not nearly as big.
“Mama,” the not-too-big woman greeted. “Is this your child?”
I curtseyed to both of them and they nodded at me.
“Yes, this is Toritsefe. I’ve brought her.”
“Let’s go inside, mama,” the not-too-big woman said, turning and disappearing before waiting for an answer.
“Toritsefe, come,” mama said.
By now, my senses were buzzing. What was this place? And why had I been brought here? Why couldn’t we speak in the living room like normal visitors?
I went with mama, through a shadowy passage into a more lit up room. This room was not furnished like a standard bedroom. There was a bed with white bed sheets, the walls were painted sky blue and there was a table very close to the bed on which lay some shiny instruments that I could not identify.
The huge woman took two steps to the door, locked it then wrapped the key in one folded end of her wrapper. By now, I was alarmed.
“Mama, what is happening?” I asked, tugging my grandmother’s arm.
“Nothing,” she replied. “You just sit down.”
“Mama, haven’t you told her?” the not-too-heavy woman –who I’d soon find out was a local midwife– asked her.
“No, but I’ll tell her now.”
My grandmother now, in our local Itsekiri language, the only language she spoke, explained to me that I was here for circumcision.
“Ahhh! Please, mama please. Don’t do this, please,” I pleaded.
I tried to run for the door but I was outnumbered, outmuscled and the door was locked anyway.
“My daughter, don’t struggle. Struggling just makes it more painful. It’s for your own good. You’ll not be jumping on any man you see. You’ll only want your husband,” the midwife cajoled.
“I’m not jumping on men. Mama, please tell them I was raped. Mama, please,” I begged.
By this time, I was in tears but the die had been cast. I was instructed to take of my clothes and after an initial period of pleading and a brief struggle, I begrudgingly took them all off. When I saw the blade in the midwife’s hand, all the calmness I mustered while taking off my clothes disappeared.
“Please, mama please. I’m your daughter. Mama, don’t do this,” I screamed.
My voice was taut, chortled with heaving and screams, but my grandma was not budging. They fought to hold me to the bed, but I was determined to escape. I kept them off me, until the very heavy woman sat on my chest. I could not breathe, much less fight. She held me down tight while the other woman held my thighs apart. I felt the initial nick of the blade on my genitalia and my scream was the last thing I heard.
When I woke up, they were dousing water on my face to wake me up. It was darker and I was gasping with heavy breaths. The pain did not wake me up but seconds after my eyes opened, I felt it. This was the worst pain I had felt in my entire life. My private part felt like I was on fire, the pain bit, stung and dug into my thighs, up to my back. I could not stop crying and putting my hand on the stubbed part. I bled so much that I was scared I would die. I could not walk, or do any other thing. I only screamed and cried.
Some hours later, my grandmother and one of the women got me outside and my grandmother helped me to get back home. I was bedridden for days. Urinating was torture. At first, I did not understand what was done to me. It took me a couple of days to realize that I had been circumcised. It hurt me deeply. Asides the physical pain, I felt deep betrayal, immense emotional pain and mental torture worse than anything I had ever felt.
Some days after, I noticed a whitish-yellow secretion from the site of the circumcision. It was pus. I was infected. The infection started giving off a foul smell and I spent several weeks treating it. I felt filthy. I was ashamed of what was done to me. I lost confidence and became angry with my grandmother, with myself for not suspecting and with life for always treating me this way. Why was it always me?
My daydreams became my succor. The only time I found peace was when I sat and dreamt of what and who I would become years from now. My heart turned against my grandmother. The same person who I saw as my pillar served as the vehicle to bring me into such shame.
Later on, I discovered that my grandmother did not plan this for only me. There were about eight of us around the same age, who she planned to circumcise at the same time. However, when the parents of the other children were informed, they refused and forbade my grandmother from trying such. I was the only child without a parent to stand for her. I was the guinea pig. This discovery made me even more inflamed towards my grandmother.
It took a long while to come to terms with what happened and it took finding my faith again for me to let go. I finally forgave my grandmother, but that was after I had left her fold and joined the church at my aunt’s place. I got to understand that she acted in the way she knew best, misguided as it was, but I knew I had to forgive her. She was the only one who had stood by me. She loved me. She made a mistake, one I could never forget, but I forgave her and it only took a while.
Thankfully, Female Genital Mutilation practices are becoming a lost custom. Modern medicine has informed us that there are no health benefits to these acts. It only leads to future health complications, mental trauma and psychological injuries. As a survivor, I can relate with the problems it causes and can boldly state that, its abolishment is absolutely necessary.
Valerie is an anti-FGM facilitator and you can read more about her on our Meet the Team page