Breaking Tradition: Fighting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Guinea
"I was my mother’s only child and I almost lost my life twice."
Each year, an estimated 2 million girls worldwide undergo excision or female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C). Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is practiced throughout West Africa. However, Guinea has a particularly high prevalence at 98%.
Nearly 50 years after her excision, Tante Mado still finds it traumatic to discuss the experience. “The day of my excision, I bled a lot and went into shock. My mother cried and screamed thinking I was dead... These are very painful memories. Excision was worse than giving birth.”
One Woman Fights Tradition
Tante Mado went on to become a midwife. And what she witnessed horrified her. Appalled by the deaths and suffering of women who had undergone Female Genital Cutting (FGC), Tante Mado set up the Association des Femmes pour l’Avenir des Femmes (AFAF), the Women’s Association for the Future of Women.
In 2007, Plan began funding an AFAF project to raise awareness of the effects of FGC.
FGC in Guinea forms part of an initiation ceremony that girls go through as a rite of passage into womanhood. An ancient tradition, the initiation allows girls to be part of a secret society for women. The pact of silence agreed to by the women means that the girls who are about to be initiated are not aware of the process.
Most excisions are performed without anesthetic. The first experience is extreme, with unexpected pain. The most common immediate complication is excessive bleeding due to the accidental cutting of a major vein or artery. Other complications are urinary retention, tetanus, and other wound infections. Deaths of girls during initiation ceremonies are not uncommon. In addition to scarring, long term complications include: childbirth, menstruation, and problems during sexual intercourse.
AFAF informs and involves the whole community: men, women, girls, boys, the authorities, even former excisors (the women who perform the excisions). AFAF has developed an alternative initiation ceremony for girls. This consists of a four-day training course where the girls learn about FGC and its consequences, reproductive health, child rights and gain an understanding of their responsibilities as mothers, wives and women in the community.
Ending the Tradition of Female Genital Cutting
In April 2008, barely a year after the AFAF/Plan project began, the village of Koumonin in north-west Guinea declared publicly that it would no longer excise girls. Since then another village nearby has followed suit and three others are planning to abandon excision.
On February 6, 2009, this growing movement was given a boost when hundreds of girls and women marched through Gueckedou, a town in north-western Guinea to celebrate the International Day Against Female Genital Cutting.
“I was very happy marching and singing about excision — what was once hidden has now come out. I’m really happy that this practice is coming to an end,” said one girl.
What can you do?
Learn more about Plan's Because I am a Girl campaign which fights gender inequality, promotes girls' rights, and seeks to lift millions of girls out of poverty.