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At 13-years-old she and her classmates endured female genital mutilation at the hands of a school security guard

I never experienced the opportunity to enjoy the priceless and vulnerable innocence of childhood; it was ripped from me when I underwent genital mutilation at the age of 13.

  • 3 months ago
  • November 30, 2023
7 min read
Representative image from Wikimedia Commons | Photo courtesy of 2014 International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation Representative image from Wikimedia Commons | Photo courtesy of 2014 International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation
Journalist’s Notes
Interview Subject
Ruth Kaponda, 17, lives in Harare, Zimbabwe. At the age of 13, a security guard at her school tricked her and nine other girls into participating in female genital mutilation in the form of labia minora stretching. Now, at 17, she tells her story to raise awareness. Ruth plans to study law in college so that she can advocate for the rights of young girls in Zimbabwe.
Background Information
According to EClinical Medicine, “Labia minora elongation (LME) is a form of female genital mutilation (FGM) that involves the elongation of the inner lips of the female external genitalia or labia minora with the use of herbs…oils, crèmes… and other instruments until the intended length is achieved… Unlike other types of FGM, LME is a prolonged process that takes months to years of physical and mental suffering.” Prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, women report doing this as a requisite to marriage, a rite of passage, and the entrance into womanhood.

Trigger Warning: The following story contains graphic descriptions of the process of female genital mutilation which Ruth Kaponda endured, and may not be suitable for some readers.

ZVISHAVANE, Zimbabwe ꟷ I never experienced the opportunity to enjoy the priceless and vulnerable innocence of childhood; it was ripped from me when I underwent genital mutilation at the age of 13. Now, at 17 years old, despite all the help I receive, I believe I will never fully recover from the trauma.

Read more stories on FGM at Orato World Media.

In the shower room at school, an adult woman showed us her privates

Like any 13-year-old girl finishing up grade seven in primary school in Zimbabwe, I didn’t know much [about men, women, and sex]. Each day I walked the two kilometers to school in a group of girls. At the gate, we joked back and forth with our campus security guard. She felt like an aunt who made us laugh and gave us advice.

On the school grounds, I felt excited to go to the shower room where I could freshen up before class as part of the hygiene program. This remained my routine for as long as I can remember. One particular morning during the rainy season, between January and March, my classmates and I took a bath as usual, but this time our security guard joined us.

Ten of us huddled in the shower room when we noticed something unusual. The security guard’s private parts looked like they belonged to a man because something was hanging there. The year before, we learned about private parts in class and we knew something about hers was different. One of the girls asked her, “What is wrong with your privates?”

The security guard told us that she had her labia minora stretched to better please her husband, and she offered to teach us how to do the same. “Men will like you better,” she told us. In my young mind, I felt excited to be part of a special group of women, preferred by men. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. None of the girls that day really understood the implications.

She lured us into a secluded room and began the process of stretching our labia

The guard went on to tell us that we should begin immediately, while our bodies remained tender. “The process must be done only in the morning,” she said, “So you have to come to school early.” The very next day, we arrived early to school to have our labia minora “transformed” as she called it. That marked the day my life changed forever.

Ten of us entered the designated room where the process would take place – mostly the girls from my group who walked to school together. The room was disguised as a “sex education” space and the windows and curtains remained closed. It was secluded enough to be isolated and out of hearing range. When I entered, the security guard shut and locked the door.

She instructed us to sit in the “giving birth” position With no boys in site, we thought nothing of it. Sitting in a circle, I held the third spot in line. The guard, who we called aunt, held herbs on a plate, which she dipped her fingers into. I later learned the paste made her fingers extremely sticky – a requirement for the procedure. When she touched the first girls’ private parts, she massaged them for a minute or two. Again, we thought little of it. We were only taught not to let boys touch us. This is when the horror began.

For two months, we endured horrific genital mutilation

As I awaited my turn, the first girl in line suddenly screamed in pain. Our heads turned quickly to look, and we heard the guard slap her hard on the cheeks while threatening her. “If any of you make a sound I will stab you all with a knife,” she snarled. We saw her knife before. We knew it was real. Suddenly the room went cold. “Something is seriously wrong,” I thought.

My friends froze and I felt alone in the room. For the next two minutes I listened as the girl who went first groaned quietly in pain as the guard pulled at her privates. She used the thumb and index fingers from each hand and yanked at what I now know is the labia minora.

She pinched both sides of the labia, gripping tightly, while pulling outward. I felt a cold sweat form on my skin, realizing I would be the third to go. I watched as the girl before me tried to cry silently as her face twisted in agony. She looked like a person on fire, wriggling her body. We never made a sound.

When my turn came, I felt my heart break. This woman – who pretended to be our friend – wanted to hurt me. I closed my eyes as she pulled at my labia, grinding my teeth and reaching for something to touch. We repeated this process twice, marking the first day of nearly two months of torture. The guard insisted on meeting us each day until the process ended. A day became a week, and a week became two weeks, and we never told anyone. Those two months felt like an eternity.

The police arrest our abuser, who perpetrated these crimes against 50 girls

Throughout this time, I became depressed, got sick, and lost weight. I woke up each day in a sweat-soaked bed and started to experience panic attacks. As time passed, I dared not touch my own privates because they hurt all the time. They also felt like a constant reminder of the horror I endured. I couldn’t even clean myself properly.

A moment came when I thought about picking up a knife and cutting my wrists to end it all. However, something proved far worse: the moment I went numb to the pain. Somehow, I stopped feeling anything, and I came to believe I deserved it. I even began hating boys because all of this started in pursuit of pleasing men. Soon, I began cutting myself just to feel something, and I hid the marks under long sleeves.

One of the girls in our group tried to tell a teacher, but she was quickly dismissed. Time went on and I fell ill. Still just 13 years old, my mother helped me to the bath. When she noticed my labia minora fully stretched she nearly had a heart attack. The words flooded out of me, and I told her everything. My mother rushed to the school to make a report and the police became involved.

When the authorities arrested the security guard who did this to us, we did not understand. We truly believed what she did was part of a school program. In total, this woman had abused 50 girls, including our group.

As a 17-year-old, the professional help I have received has done little for me. I have no plans to be sexual with anyone and I fear intimacy. I hate the idea of sex, despite my privates having returned to normal. While my body has healed, the mental scars run deep. The inadequacy of the rural school system to provide a safe environment for young girls who have no voice created a very avoidable situation. I will pay for that for the rest of my life, but I intend to pursue a career in law so I can help other young girls.

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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