Since 2004, the Red
Cross Red Crescent Movement has made combating female genital
mutilation a priority. In 2008 and 2009, National Societies
in West and Central Africa are stepping up efforts to raise
awareness about its harmful effects on the health of tens
of thousands of women, including increasing the risk of HIV.
In Cameroon, it is estimated that one in five women is circumcised.
Red Cross Red Crescent magazine spoke to Cameroon Red Cross
Society volunteers, Pauline Gong Ounane (PGO) and Fatime Majuini
(FM), who was circumcised at the age of 7.
Why did you become involved in the campaign to
end female genital mutilation?
FM: I wanted to stop other women suffering
like I did. I bled so heavily when my clitoris was removed
that my grandmother had to take me to the hospital. Afterwards
I was in constant discomfort from the scarring and when I
had my first child, the labour lasted four days. I have five
children and every time I gave birth the wound opened and
caused immense pain.
How do you get the message across?
PGO: Fatime is Muslim, a fluent Arab speaker
and comes from the areas most affected by female genital mutilation.
When she relates what happened to her and how her health suffered
afterwards, people really listen. She is incredibly courageous
as the issue is extremely taboo.
What are the taboos surrounding female genital
FM: My grandmother told me that if I didn’t
have it done, people would laugh at me and I would not find
PGO: The procedure reduces women’s
sexual sensitivity, so the likelihood of the women having
sex outside marriage is reduced and the honour of the family
How do you persuade communities that it should
PGO: We emphasize the health impacts: how
women can suffer from serious infection and that during childbirth
she can even lose the child she is carrying.
What about the women who carry out the practice?
PGO: We don’t denounce the women who
do this, but work to try to help them. They can earn a lot
of money; we give them microcredit loans to finance alternative
livelihoods. They retrain as gardeners or midwives, or raise
animals and grow crops to sell. Between March 2007 and March
2008, we helped 100 practitioners.
What difference has your work made?
PGO: When we first went to these villages,
we were chased away. The men were angry that we wanted to
stop a traditional social practice and hurled insults at us.
I really did not want to go back and felt very uncomfortable.
It was especially difficult as I have not been circumcised
so did not feel that I had much credibility. But since Fatime
joined our team, there has been a change. The communities
listen to us. You can see the light going on in their eyes
when Fatime speaks about her difficulties giving birth. The
men and women both realize that the practice is extremely
harmful and tell us that they are not going to put their daughters
through this ordeal.
FM: It is very difficult for women to speak
openly about this issue. Traditional women are expected to
stay at home and bring up the children. But I knew that I
did not want my two daughters to suffer like I did. It was
so important to break the pattern of suffering and abuse,
and what is more, I have the full backing of my husband.