“I started seeing myself as a survivor and not a victim the day I took back the power my abusers had over me.” Those are the words of Francess Cole, an outspoken survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM) and the Founder of Life After FGM.
Life After FGM is hosting its first sister talk conference, Take Back the Power on Saturday, May 21, 2016 at the Nyumburu Cultural Center on the campus of Maryland University in College Park. The event is organized for survivors of female genital mutilation and other forms of sexual violence, to come together and take back their power. “It is a time for healing,” said Cole. Attendees will receive tools which will help them take back the power their abusers have over them and live a life of total freedom.
Francess Cole was born in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, a country that practices female genital mutilation at a high rate, even to date. Due to the presence of the Sande Society in that country, the United Nations has referred to Sierra Leone and its neighboring Liberia as difficult countries to end the practice of FGM. While many women in that West African country still justify the practice, Francess Cole is one of the few women speaking out in critical appearances against the old archaic tradition.
Cole told Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation, “I began speaking against the practice of female genital mutilation after the release of my autobiography Distant Sunrise – The Strength in her Pain to forgive. I realized a huge number of women and girls were suffering in fear and silence (just like I was) and decided to use my personal story of survival to motivate and encourage”. She said her post-FGM years were not easy especially for her mental health. Even though she speaks at events and has made guest appearances on various radio shows, she still has not overcome the psychological effects of FGM. “Whenever I read an article on FGM, I go into PTSD mode. I often find myself thinking about the darkest day of my life (August 1st 1984) and wished someone had rescued me as my clitoris was being amputated”. She was only eleven years of age at the time.
Cole recalls her childhood in Sierra Leone; that many girls did not know what sanitary napkins were because they could not afford them. She said to date, there are many less fortunate girls who cannot afford sanitary napkins; they still use pieces of cloth as protection during their menstrual periods. Francess told Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation that she wants to change that in Sierra Leone. She has launched a drive to collect sanitary napkins to take back to Sierra Leone and distribute them to the girls in need. Cole said she will travel to Sierra Leone each year and will conduct workshops on personal hygiene for the girls, at which time she will pass out sanitary napkins. This month’s event is free of charge but she wants the public to know that they would appreciate donations of sanitary napkins during the event. The local organization in Sierra Leone, Girl Child Network will benefit from the sanitary napkins drive and the workshops.
Cole wants everyone to know that FGM is not an African thing, neither is it a cultural and religious thing. She said, “FGM is now happening on European and American soils so it is now everybody’s thing.”
Join the sister talk conference in helping women take back their lives on Saturday, May 21st at 4018 Campus Drive, College Park, Maryland 20740 – 1:30pm until 4:00pm. What a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon!
Join us in next week’s edition when An Exclusive returns with another fascinating woman.