Female genital mutilation (FGM) remains widespread across many developing countries and has affected an estimated 140 million girls across Africa and parts of the Middle East and Asia. In Sierra Leone it is considered a traditional practice as part of initiation in to secret women’s societies known as Bondo, with nine out of ten women and girls having been cut. Membership marks a girls’ transition into womanhood and they receive training in their roles as wives and mothers. While FGM is therefore seen as a societal norm, it has internationally been considered a violation of human rights. As a result, the country faces pressure to pass laws against its practice.
Tenneh was subjected to female genital mutilation at the age of 8 years old in Sierra Leone in order to prepare her for marriage.
I was born in Sierra Leone and lived with my mother and sister. I was cut when I was 8 years old. I was told that there will be a grand ceremony and they bought me a very pretty dress. They invited a lot of other women and there was music and dance. Then the women took me into an empty room and one came behind me and pinned me to the floor by pressing my shoulders hard. Another held my left leg and a third held my right leg. At that point I started panicking and asked them to release me. They did not listen. My mother has disappeared and the only familiar face was that of my auntie who kept on telling me to lie down and be quiet. A very old lady came in sat in front of my opened legs and opened a piece of cloth. She took out a blade and started cutting me. The pain was excruciating. I started screaming. I tried with all my strength to free my legs but the two women holding me, held harder and harder and I kept screaming. The woman kept on cutting. I think I fainted at that point.
I felt betrayed by my mother and did not want to talk to her. She told me that when I grew up I would be able to have children safely and my husband would love me.
Since that day I had a lot of pain when I passed water and when I started having a period I would scream from the pain sometimes. I never felt anything when my husband came to my bed at night. I cleaned his house, cooked for him and he forced me to sleep with him all the time. It hurt a lot. I could not have children; it might have been a result of the cutting. My husband left me because he had the right to take another wife and because he said I brought him bad luck.
I was at a really low point in my life, I had nobody. I found out about Ashiana and arranged to meet a worker. The worker I had was very kind and knew a lot about FGM, I felt like I could talk to her and didn’t have to explain myself. I have received support for over a year now and feel much better about my life. I have accessed health support and emotional support and am training to become a volunteer with Ashiana. My aim is to raise awareness alongside the workers in the communities which are affected by FGM. I hope that I can help other girls and women so that they don’t have to go through what I have been through.
Narrative provided by ASHIANA