Once a victim herself, Kenyan Parliament hopeful fights to eradicate female genital mutilation

I silently prayed, waiting in fear for whatever was about to happen. A few minutes later, I felt a sharp pain in my genital area as my flesh was cut off. They gave me no painkillers or anesthesia as they cut; the pain overwhelmed me, and I lost all my strength.

  • 2 years ago
  • February 11, 2022
6 min read
Now the mother of three daughters of her own, Sadia vows to protect as many girls as she can from the pain and trauma of FGM Now the mother of three daughters of her own, Sadia vows to protect as many girls as she can from the pain and trauma of FGM | Photo courtesy of the Dayaa Women Group
Sadia Hussein
Interview subject
Sadia Hussein is a women’s rights advocate, female genital mutilation (FGM) survivor and the founder of the Brighter Society Initiative.

Born in an interior village in Kenya’s Tana River County, she underwent FGM at 10 years old and later endured severe complications while giving birth. Determination to keep her daughters and other young girls from the same fate led her to becoming an anti-FGM activist.

Sadia has also expressed interest in politics and is gearing up to run for a position as a Woman Representative in the Kenyan Parliament in 2022.
Background Information
According to the World Health Organization, Female genital mutilation (FGM) involves the “partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” The United Nations estimates that 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM around the world, with 80 percent of cases occur in Africa.

In Kenya, 4 million girls and women have undergone FGM, representing 21 percent of girls and women ages 15-49. Risk factors include living in a rural area, poverty, and lack of education. The practice is viewed as a prerequisite for a “good” marriage by some rural communities.

The Kenyan government criminalized FGM in 2011, with a punishment of three years imprisonment and a fine of $2,000 USD. Despite the government policy, cases of FGM have continued. However, non-government organizations in partnership with survivors of FGM continue to make strides in awareness and eradication.

TANA RIVER COUNTY—I fight against the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM)—it is my life’s work. My journey began when I was a victim myself at just 10 years old.

An unspoken childhood ritual

In our culture, society considered girls who had not undergone “the cut” to be unclean. I was no exception, though I didn’t understand what the words meant.

When I was around 10 years old, other girls kept telling me I wasn’t clean. This confused and embarrassed me—often, I would cry in response.  After school, I would ask my mother what that meant, but she rarely answered my questions and instead changed the subject.

I was in grade 6 and expected to sit my final primary exam and proceed to high school in two years’ time. Many boys underwent circumcision from ages 10-12, as preparation to exit primary education and enter adulthood. I knew about that because they were very proud of it and talked about it regularly. In contrast, I had never heard of anything like FGM until it happened to me.

Undergoing FGM at 10 years old

Everything changed when one morning, my mother and grandmother informed me I was supposed to be cleaned. I was young and naive and thought they just meant bathing. As they led me to a bush, I felt excitement and anxiety wondering what was in store for me.

Women were gathered at this spot; some were aunties and close neighbors, but others were strangers. They started undressing me, and fear began to grow in my mind. There was no water anywhere around us—only sharpened razors.

I asked my mother what was going on, but before she replied, one of the women grabbed me and laid me on the ground. The women formed a circle around me—some pulled my hands apart, others pulled my legs apart, and my grandmother pressed my chest to the ground. Finally, another woman stuffed a piece of cloth into my mouth. There was nothing I could do to fight it.

I silently prayed, waiting in fear for whatever was about to happen. A few minutes later, I felt a sharp pain in my genital area as my flesh was cut off. They gave me no painkillers or anesthesia as they cut; the pain overwhelmed me, and I lost all my strength.

The women used traditional plants to treat my wound and told me the healing process would take two weeks; it ended up taking two months. Gradually, I came into terms with it and returned to life as normal. Little did I know it was only the first time I would have to endure this agonizing practice.

Cut again during childbirth

I got married at 20 and was due to give birth to my first child at 21. In our culture, when one nears giving birth, the expectant women may return home to get help from their mother, grandmother, or other female relatives. I followed suit as my due date approached and I prepared to become a mother. However, this day also turned horrific.

As I gave birth, I experienced days of extraordinary pain and complications. My mother and her friends refused to take me to a hospital; they said everything was normal and that I was overreacting. They were prepared with razors to help me deliver successfully.

Then, it was like a repeat of that day a decade before. They tied my legs down, and I felt continuous cutting in my genitals. I begged and screamed, but they would not tell what was happening.

Despite the overwhelming pain, my baby girl entered the world safely. I named my little daughter Maryam. I was so excited for my child, though I had no strength to hold her. My mother held her as they untied me, and I began to realize more mutilation had been done.

All this as a way to keep one “safe” for their husband and to discourage women from having intimate relationships outside marriage.

Breaking generational traumas

As I healed, it was a time of reflection for me. I knew it was just a matter of years before my little girl would be forced to undergo FGM herself; there was no way you could live in my village with my aunties, mother, grandmother and neighbors and yet refuse to have your girl mutilated.

However, I somehow gained courage and informed my parents that Maryam would never undergo the tradition. They did not take it lightly, but there was no turning back for me.

Following the completion of my education, I decided to take a bold step and move from my village to the town of Hola in Tana River County. I decided to form groups that would advocate for the eradication of FGM.

After spending almost two years advocating against FGM in the surrounding villages, I realized many young mothers who had undergone the cut did not support of the act. What’s more, none of them wished that their own child undergo FGM. In response, I formed the Dayaa Women Group and the Brighter Society Initiative, supported and financed by my husband and additional donors. I’m proud to say that we have greatly reduced the practice of FGM.

I also have decided to run for Tana River County Women Representative in 2022. Once in Parliament, my priority will be to ensure FGM is fully eradicated in Kenya and that girls from vulnerable and rural places get a chance to be educated.

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