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Female Genital Mutilation: strong mother fights brutal ritual

Text: Christiane Dase, Photos: Fairpicture 

Saynab has given birth to five children, four of them girls. The pain she suffered giving birth to her first child must have been unimaginable. Saynab lives in Somaliland, a region in Somalia that unilaterally declared independence in 1991. As a little girl, Saynab was genitally mutilated - because it is a tradition in her homeland. Saynab wants to save her daughters from this fate. That's why the 40-year-old is fighting against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) today and educating people in one of our projects about the lifelong, painful and often lethal consequences of it. 

Saynab, can you tell us about what you had to experience as a child and how FGM changed your life?

I was genitally mutilated as a child. Afterwards, I was very sick and couldn't move. I remember not being able to play with my friends for weeks. Later, as an adolescent and then after marriage, when I got pregnant, it went on and on. I was mutilated and stitched up. When I got my period, I had pain, I suffered from inflammation and constipation. When I was in labor for the birth of my first child, they had to open me up so I could deliver at all. I almost bled to death. That's when I swore to myself that I would never do that to my daughters. I have forgiven my parents, but my daughters will not experience the same suffering I did. 

Saynab and her daughters (Source: Mustafa Saeed)
Saynab with two of her daughters 

How do you make sure that girls and young women in Somaliland do not suffer the same fate as you?

I talk a lot about my experiences. People need to know that a genitally mutilated girl suffers for life. Many die during the procedure. Pregnancy is also very dangerous, many young women do not survive the birth of their child. And of course, genitally mutilated women have no feelings for sexuality at all, because the nerve cords are cut and everything is numb. Meanwhile, I warn my friends and neighbours every day. Most of them listen to me, except for a few incorrigible fanatics. But at least that is a success. I want to set an example. 

Tools for FGM (Source: Mustafa Saeed)
Tools for FGM

Do you think that your fight against FGM is causing a change in thinking in your home country? 

Recently, a young girl from the country was brought to me. Her mother had let her genitally mutilated, she was sewn up very brutally and then her legs were fixed so that the opening would close properly. The girl suffered a lot, she lost so much blood and even fell into a coma. She was lying on the floor in our house for weeks. With luck she survived. Recently, a nomad woman also brought her daughter to our town. She wanted to have the girl genitally mutilated, luckily I was able to convince the woman not to do it!

It is certainly not easy to fight against a centuries-old tradition and at the same time talk about a taboo subject. Who is supporting you? 

There are NGOs like Kindernothilfe and their project partners who support us in the fight against FGM. We get information and seminars where we are educated and learn to pass on, what we have learned there, in our community. I have experienced the devastating and painful consequences of FGM on my own body, but all my surroundings and our neighbours have also had to experience it. I believe the main reasons why people continue to practice FGM are ignorance and lack of education. I really want to talk to more families about this issue and get them to spare their daughters from it.