Taking a stand against FGM in Sierra Leone
Meet the girls raising their voices for girls’ rights and an end to female genital mutilation.
In Sierra Leone, Sewanatu was six when she was forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice that involves removing the external genitalia of girls and young women for non-medical reasons. Isha* was 12 when it happened to her.
“I lost part of my body and I won’t ever get it back,” she says.
Today, Sewanatu and Isha are determined that other girls won’t have the same experience they did.
They’re taking a stand in their communities, explaining the risks of the practice and making sure girls know their rights and where to find help if they think they may be forced to go through FGM.
To mark International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, we’re sharing their stories.
“I was 12 when I was cut. I didn’t really know anything about FGM, so it was a big surprise to me when it happened.
“Almost as soon as I was cut my parents told me that I had to get married. And, as young as I was, I asked, ‘Do I have to marry, or can I go to school?’ It was not easy for me, but that is the conversation I had with my parents. And it was a battle between us.
“My parents did not have the finances to support me. All they wanted was for me to get married. When I said that I didn’t want to do it they told me that they would disown me.
“Now I live at a school that supports girls and boys who have experienced difficulties at home like me. But it wasn’t until I came here that I fully learnt what FGM is. I lost part of my body and I won’t ever get it back.
“Now I serve as a mentor to other girls in my school. I tell them what happened to me so that they are informed. I also let them know what they can do if they ever find themselves in a situation like the one I was in. That even if their parents try to force them, they have the right to get help.
“We work with boys as well. We find out what they think and get ideas from them that we can challenge if we think they need to be challenged – and that’s how we all learn and make life better for everyone.”
“I think I was about 10 when I found out that FGM wasn't necessary. Up until that point I had thought it was a tradition that was done to protect me from something.
"That was when I realised that it was not necessary for them to have cut me.
“I became an activist when a girl in my class got married and I wanted to know what I could do to help. I couldn’t believe that her parents had just taken her out of school like that.
“I was really lucky because although my dad has never been to school, he has a passion for education. He found out about a local child advocacy network and took me along, signed me up and I started going to meetings.
“That’s where I first learnt about the Child Rights Act and that as children – particularly girls – we have the right not to have harmful things done to us.
“When I went back to school, I mobilised my friends and others within the school and we started talking about what should be done about all the things that affect us. I have been campaigning ever since.
“I will influence and advocate wherever I go and wherever I see that change is needed.”
*Name has been changed to protect identity
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