"I can't go back": a story of escaping FGM in Tanzania

For many girls, female genital mutilation (FGM) is an inevitability. Youth For Change Tanzania's Upendo tells the story* of a young girl who gave up everything to escape FGM...

It started like a joke but, in reality it came. My mother and grandmother always speak proudly about it, seasons to seasons, my neighbors and relatives underwent it it. I was so shocked and I didn’t believe what they told me. My lovely teacher spoke about it every day. She said it’s violence against human rights, she spoke so emotionally about it. She herself was a victim of the painful and unethical act - female genital mutilation. 

I asked my Mama...

Why should I be cut, why Mama? Is that because I am a girl? I don’t want to be cut mama it’s too painful, I might die Mama. I want to live; I want to become a doctor!

She looked at me so gently and bravely

No my dear it’s not that painful, me, your grandmother and your sister have all undergone it. Look at your friends and our neighbors - they are all cut, why are you so afraid?

“Mhhhhh!!!!!!!! I will buy the cutest Kanga and a beautiful dress for you my child, think about all the gifts and food we will cook, you will be a princess my dear! You know if

You are not cut our family will be CURSED! No man will be ready to marry you, and you will have no friends anymore.

Out of nowhere my father jumped in to join our discussion;

Mama Kibona contact your friends, relatives and neighbors. I talked with Mzee wa mila [a traditional leader], he said the cutting ceremony will be next Sunday. My wife we are going to be rich, three grooms are competing to win our lovely daughter soon after cutting.

My mother jumped up and celebrated loudly.

Mama why are you so happy I am only 12 years old! Please don’t do it, help me Mama I want to be a doctor!

My mother replied:

My daughter if you study so much no one will marry you! Look at me, I am not educated but I am happy my dear!
Credit:  Arnau Ribera

Credit: Arnau Ribera

The cutting ceremony was the topic of the town, everyone was speaking about it. I was so uncomfortable with the environment. On my way to school I met my best friend Rita, and she was so sad too.

We discussed the impacts of FGM. Even though there are so many  I could remember only one - and that was death. I was so afraid, the day was so long, in class I couldn’t even understand, contribute or comment. After classes Rita followed me and whispered in my ear 

Let’s talk to matron, she will help us’

We talked to our matron - she was so sad and she told us that we should talk to our parents about the impacts and bring her the feedback tomorrow. She provided us small book that comprised important information and an address where we can report the matter. A quick idea jumped into my mind. I told Rita

Let’s run, the center is not that much far from here.

Rita was so shocked,:

Town is not that near Kibona, where are we going to get the money for bus fare? I am so afraid!
I can’t stay here Rita, I see my own grave and a beautiful white doctor’s gown in front of me, and I choose the doctors white gown. I can’t die, I am too young for that!
CREDIT: Loonatic

CREDIT: Loonatic

I stole some few notes in my Mama’s pot, I put a few clothes, a bottle of water, and almost a kilo of groundnuts in a plastic bag. It was almost 1pm, only two days left for the big day when I made my rational and dangerous move. The journey was so tough and dangerous but, only I could think and see either grave or a doctor’s white gown.

It’s been 3 years now and I am living at the center. I miss my Mama, father, sisters and Rita. I don’t know what’s going on at home, but I can’t go back because I know they will cut me. I can't go back without a Doctor's white gown.

*This is a fictionalised account of a young girls escape from FGM in Tanzania