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FGM: A woman’s experience at the thorns of culture

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At nine years of age, a few young girls might be experiencing puberty. But the majority are probably not. They are playing with dolls, making new friends and studying in primary four, if they are lucky. About that same age, young girls are picking out hobbies they enjoy and beginning to discover who they really are. But when she was nine, Maria Chepokilipa was preparing to have her clitoris cut.

Chepokilipa belongs to the Pokot tribe. She stays in Amudat District in Karamoja, 20 kilometres away from the border of Kenya and Uganda. She is polite and shy; her eyes are focused on the ground most of the time.

When she walks, it is with small, quick and firm steps, determined to get where ever she is going. It says a lot about her character. Beneath that though, is a woman who has undergone pain so cruel, she sometimes wonders whether she will ever forget it.

It all started 28 years ago when she turned nine. It was the period between June to September. There was a buzz among the young girls of the region. It was the time to “be made a woman”, a time to prove themselves strong and courageous, a time to get married.

Tradition has it among the Pokot that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is carried out when girls are aged between nine and 12 years and as soon as they are healed, they are married off.

Although many of her peers were talking about undergoing the knife, Chepokilipa thought it was still too early for them. “I told some we should wait till we have grown a little older but no one listened to me,” she recalls.

In the end, fear of being the odd man out and being teased made her tell her parents that she was ready. But nine years is rather young and even her father could see that. He told her she should wait a little longer but she insisted she was ready.

He then warned her that she would be married off if she got it done but even that did not make her change her mind.

Besides, it was the order of the day – as soon as a girl was circumcised, she was married off to a man much older. The girl’s age was just a number, it did not matter.

Chepokilipa says, “When I told my mother, she told me I needed to be very strong because it was the most painful experience in the world. But not even that prepared me for the pain I felt that day.”

And so, an appointment was made with a circumciser commonly known as a cutter.

To perform FGM, the cutter is invited to the girl’s home and the girl is asked to go up the hill with a stone on which she sits with her head held up high and legs spread wide for the cutter to circumcise her. There are usually at least eight girls circumcised on any given day during the season.

When each of the girls is seated on her respective stone, the cutter, who is always a female that has also undergone FGM, begins her job. Using a curved knife, the girls are circumcised, one by one.

The circumciser cuts off the clitoris as if she is scooping it off. Thereafter, she moves to the next girl and does the same using the same knife. And after this horrific duty, the circumciser is given a cow for every girl she circumcises.

Chepokilipa was circumcised on the same day as three of her sisters and four friends from the neighbourhood and, needless to say, it was a terribly painful experience.


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