This is a wonderful event and we are grateful to God for the opportunity to celebrate it with people who are passionate for change within our global community-beginning with our individual communities, cities, towns and villages especially in Africa.
This book launch is the perfect environment to showcase one of the gruesome injustices meted out against women in parts of the world that I believe some of you have visited, intend to visit or might not even visit at all. But one thing that binds all of us together is the story that everyone has to tell, stories that you need to hear about women, to motivate or perhaps anger you enough to want to take action, and right the wrongs that women suffer needlessly.
For decades, women have suffered and still suffer violence in many forms, even after red flags have been raised that women need protection-first from men, societal incriminating laws, traditions and customs and then-from their fellow women who are their mothers, sisters, cousins and aunts. Practices and traditions that women feel so comfortable with; even if history has proven that this is not a “best practice” to emulate.
Breaking my heart daily is the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, otherwise known as FGM, a term that I have labeled personally as the crippling disease, inflicted by human beings in Africa and in my native land Liberia. Out of 15 counties in Liberia, ten practice FGM-actively and passionately.
Why do I call it a crippling disease? To be crippled means “a lame or partly disabled person or animal; one that is disabled or deficient in a specified manner <a social cripple”. There are countless and untold stories of FGM which rendered victims crippled and useless to themselves.
Kou is the name of a very beautiful girl born in the eastern mountainous region of Saclepea in Nimba County. Going to college and earning a degree was the biggest dream Kou has been nurturing since birth, following interactions with her peers and women on how important education was for a woman who must survive life’s challenges. That beautiful dream was short-lived when Kou was subjected to FGM which shattered her life forever, and then was married off to a man old enough to be her father, who forbids her to go to school. She complained but her mother who should be helping her reminds her that the very reason she was sent “into the bush” was to prepare her physically for this moment so that she learns to respect her husband, serve him and to never question his decision about her. Kou has no feeling when her husband sleeps with her and when asked, said it was more of a “duty” to perform than pleasure, something she has never had the luxury to experience.
Yanga hails from the central region of Bong County, where I was born. FGM was done to her at the age of 7 and since then, she turned into a different person. Yanga suffered extremely during delivery, her vaginal walls were ruptured, and left oozing with feces and urine daily. Reports from the midwives state that due to the absence of her clitoris, Yanga suffered enormous tearing, and hemorrhaged uncontrollably before doctors tried to help. When the bleeding ceased, urine and feces gushed out, leaving behind a terrible stench exacerbated by isolation. If not for the intervention of the Liberia Fistula Project, Yanga would have remained isolated and sick. She has not had a stable relationship because men think that she is strange and not a perfect woman.
Unlike Kou and Yanga who are still alive, 11 year old Gbolue did not survive from the blade in Lofa County, northern Liberia. Gbolue fainted several times from the sharp pain inflicted by the raging blade and then died. The story told to everyone was that she probably had a “secret sin” that she did not confess, which led to her demise and not FGM. Yah also died under the blade in Nimba County. The confused father was angry but couldn’t ask what caused her death, as doing so would be questioning the traditional practice handed down by the ancestors, “revered as good for women”. He doesn’t want to be seen as one man opposing what the majority believe is cultural and right. So he suffers silently.
There are many more horrible stories that we may not have the opportunity to tell but how many more of our girls should be subjected to this practice before we realize that time is running out and that our girls need help? What are we waiting for? Until the next generation of women ministers, educators, health specialists and Nobel Peace prize winners are killed or maimed for life before we can speak out?
I am an avid fan of the perfect woman created by God. She has no defect. Her genitals were created for a purpose. Why must that perfect woman go through needless pain because someone wants to “fix” her for a man? If God needed our opinion to alter something about His creation, He would have offered the chance to do so.
Who is a perfect woman, if I may ask? I see that perfect woman as one being born in Duaita, Bong County, allowed to grow up, play with her friends and blossom with those beautiful curves that often define her from her male counterpart. Given the chance to decide what she wants to do with her life, get an education, tell people how she feels about culture and tradition without threats of death to her life, encourage others to go to school and prepare for life’s unending challenges, prepare for the future that she envisions and be given the space to make that happen.
Who is the perfect woman? The perfect woman is the one who will grow up to follow her dream, marry who she wants and not the one FGM prepared her for.
Who is the perfect woman? She is that little girl, who will grow up without fear of being harassed and intimidated by culture, will not have her clitoris ripped off, torn or gruesomely cut with razor blades, knives or a piece of zinc, enjoy the full pleasure of sexual life, and remain as she was meant to be.
I could go on and on about the perfect woman who wants to relish her freedom in a world of countless possibilities, push for change, impact lives in ways that others can emulate, challenge a man to a debate, make her voice heard and feel important.
Those of you living in the U.S enjoy that privilege but not our girls and women in Africa. Your politicians want you to excel, get better education and improve your neighborhood and larger society. Our African politicians, especially those in Liberia, are using tradition for political gains; promote FGM and you will get the indigenous votes, period. How hard can that be?
In the wake of this frustrating stance taken by the politicians, another question that pokes my mind is-how do we lead this fight? What is the chance towards change if men who should be more sympathetic to their girls are using the same girls to gain power?
I chose not to bore you with global or even continental statistics on FGM but to tell you stories that resonate with my backyard and are very similar to those in Senegal, Cameroon and Egypt, that have outlawed the practice -just to name a few.
We need anybody, somebody and everybody who will muster the will to say no to FGM in Africa and the world. Women already have difficulties competing with entrenched patriarchal cultures in Africa and must therefore, not be subjected to the horrors of FGM. I say today that it is inhumane, barbaric, gruesome, ill thought and just plain evil.
A little girl at age 7 was taken from her comfort zone, her friends and her school, made to travel for five hours on foot; to a village she calls her mother’s home. Little did she know what that travel was about because she travels there frequently. At midnight, she is taken to the room of her grandmother who tells her that everything is ok. She sleeps normal as always, not fearing something was amiss. Before dawn, she is bundled up, taken outside to freeze in the early morning wind and blindfolded by people she least expects or even knows. The rest of the walk is by imagination alongside voices bidding her to go on. The little girl wonders why she had been blindfolded but when she hears the voice of her grandmother, whom she loves very much, she is reassured that no harm could come to her. After what took like forever, she reached her destination and was told to lie down. And then the worse happened. Sharp was the pain, so excruciating that she cried to her grandmother for help but was told that it was ok for her, she was now being prepared for life, for womanhood. Little did they know the devastations that would characterize her adult life and future. That little girl was me. But this story will be told on separate pages.
Can we stop FGM for that little girl who doesn’t know how her life will be like after FGM? Yes we can, if we make the effort.
As we celebrate the launch of Angela’s book “When the Games Froze”, let us be reminded that the stories must be told, written and re-written if necessary to reinforce the campaign. It will require women to push this fight against FGM, and with the support of men. Welcome aboard and together, we can change history and make FGM, a thing of the past.
God Bless you all. And thank you.