Never before in the history of the august House had a member used her life experience to move debate as Ms Sophia Abdi did when supporting Bill to outlaw female genital mutilation.
Everyone believed it was a Islamic religious obligation to undergo the torture, and the conviction was that a woman who was not mutilated was unclean and not fit for marriage.
It was also believed that God could not hear prayers of an unmutilated woman. The MP was brought up to believe it was an Islamic religious rite.
Nominated MP Sophia Abdi Noor tends to speak forcefully on most issues she is concerned about. But when she rose to contribute on the Bill to outlaw female genital mutilation in Parliament last week, her voice dropped as the House went silent.
It was perhaps the first time an MP was giving a deeply personal story which contributing to debate.
FGM, said Sophia, was the cause of a harrowing experience during menstruation, her first sexual experience, and the eventual childbirth.
This, she said, is the driving force behind her passionate fight against the practice, which Parliament now seeks to outlaw with the Bill sponsored by Mt Elgon MP Fred Kapondi.
She was barely eight years old when together with seven of her agemates, she was handed over to a traditional circumciser who took them through the painful process of FGM. It has been many years since, and she has accomplished so much in life, but the incident remains fresh in her mind.
The old woman who took them through the process was going blind, she says, and three of the eight who underwent FGM died due to excessive bleeding. One of them was her very close friend.
Luckily for her, the bleeding was not too much and she had a saviour at hand. Her father, who was a policeman, took her to a hospital in Garissa using a police Land Rover.
She was in hospital for a week and underwent a transfusion of four pints of blood. After she left the hospital, her life completely changed and her mother was also affected as she felt guilty for ‘blessing’ her daughter to undergo the rite.
The beginning of her complications was her first menstrual period, which was slow as the opening of her vagina was small, restricting the flow and her period lasted up to seven days. This would mean missing classes for the whole period and she would often lag behind in class.
Sophia does not remember her wedding day as the happy occasion it usually is for most people.
“It was a night I literally don’t want to remember,” she said. Her husband was equally affected due to the frustrations they encountered trying to consummate their union.(HAVE SEX)
It took them three days before her husband could open up to friends about their frustrations of being unable to consummate their marriage.
“I was completely closed and we could not even share with our mothers who kept checking our bedsheets for blood (a custom to make sure you were completely shut only to be reopened the first night of marriage parents had to see blood to confirm FGM worked:(). They got worried and asked the very young couples of our age to come and find out what the problem was,” she recalls.
She was later taken to hospital for an operation although the eventual consummation was still difficult because of the wound from the operation.
She would also have problems later as she gave birth to her first child, a baby boy. She had prolonged labour for four days and she could not undergo a Caesarean section because the child had already moved to exit position. The baby had to be removed by a vacuum, slightly injuring his head.
Ms Noor says it is this experience of her life that propelled her to launch anti-FGM campaigns.
“So many girls have died out of this, there is no documentation because this is done in secret, but this is killing and that is why I am talking about it,” she said.I Lucy Mashua I can testify under oath that this is 100% true:(
She said it’s a very painful psychological experience. with some dying and that “there is no homestead that has no sad story arising from FGM,” says Ms Noor.
She explains that as a child from a pastoralist community, FGM was a compulsory rite.
“It was not a matter of consultation, it was even a taboo to talk about i. It was a very strong belief,” she says. (YOU CAN IMAGINE WHAT HAPPENS TO SOMEONE WHO SPEAKS AND SACRIFICE HER LIFE AS AN FGM ACTIVIST.)
Everyone believed it was a religious obligation to undergo the rite, and the conviction was that a woman who was not mutilated was unclean and not fit for marriage.
It was also believed that God could not hear prayers of an unmutilated woman. But the MP does not blame her mother for the ordeal. She understands too well that like many other women in her community, she was brought up to believe it was a religious rite.
Going through the process meant cleansing daughters for marriage. “No one wanted their daughter to be a ‘haram’(Arabic) for unfit for marriage,” she explains.
A part from the belief that mutilating the girl made her clean, it was also believed that the process protected her virginity.
“Once taken to her husband, he would know that she had been properly taken care of,” the MP explains. The third reason for FGM is that the community was scared of girls who were not mutilated, easily branding them prostitutes.
This is because it was believed not going through FGM left a woman sensitive sexually hence could easily turn to prostitution.
My parting shot
O.M.G we undergo all these to satisfy a man's world? purely hidden in pretense of culture and religion? FGM is a crime against women and all the perpetrators should be locked up! as a victim myself at the age of 9 I can totally relate to Ms Noor. I can not say male circumcision is equal to FGM there is no comparison!! with the number of over 200 girls bleeding to death everyday , you can imagine if in one homestead (Boma) 8 girls bled to death one morning how under reported is FGM deaths? The mutilators are sometimes murderers, and deserve prison for torturing killing girls. This sounds like an exaggeration, but death occurs sometimes years later for slow infections, childbirth, and lifelong illness. Working with immigrants everyday this happens everyday and with our girls protection bill currently to be reintroduced to congress doctors can be of very much help to catching this mutilators, USA believes in human rights and if you want to live freely in united states you need to not violate any human rights!!!
Ambassador Lucy S. Mashua, President of Mashua Voice for the Voiceless, International
Assisting and advocating for U.S. refugees and women’s rights
Global Ambassador for Ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
Chairperson of the Worldwide Campaign Against FGM
Leading in lobbying for HR 5137: The Girl's Protection Act sponsored by Rep. Joseph Crowley and Rep. Mary Bono Mack.