The older women bustled around as if preparing for a wedding. I sat on a mat watching them.
My grandmother hobbled over.
‘I am proud of you my child! I went through what you are about to go through. Your mother went through it as well. It really saved us from temptation. You will be saved too. Do not worry about dying. Only girls who have already slept with men die.’
She spat out the remnants of the chewing stick from her mouth.
After giving me a pat on the back, she went over to an aunt.
Some minutes passed and soon I was called.
‘Lie down, ‘Aunt Salamatu, my mum’s big sister commanded.
Her heavy bosom heaved as she bent to retie the cloth she wore.
‘Open your legs,’ was her second command.
‘Wider’! !she bellowed when I spread my legs a few metres apart.
‘Alima, bring the pair of scissors,’ she ordered.
My mum came to hold my right hand encouragingly.
I watched with fearful eyes as Aunt Salamatu smiled at me.
The scissors inched closer. I felt it graze my genitals.
And then, I experienced a form of pain I had never experienced before.
I thought I was going mad.
‘AIEEEEEE!!!!’!I screamed, writhing on the floor.
‘Hold her legs Alima and Fawzia,’ Aunt Salamatu screamed at her daughters.
My legs were at once held up and all I could do was plead and beg them.
‘Please stop,’ I cried. ‘I cannot take it anymore.’
I started making promises to them.
‘I will never sleep with any man until I marry.’
And yet, the pain grew even worse; my plea fell on deaf ears.
‘You’ll be fine,’ my mother whispered in my ears.
I felt as if my body was ripped apart. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to die.
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) refers to the practice that involves the partial or total removal or alteration of the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
Prevalence rate in Ghana
The prevalence of FGM in Ghana amongst women aged 15-49 is 3.8%. The region with the highest prevalence is Upper West. It has a prevalence rate of 41.1%. The Upper East Region comes in second with 27.8%. All the other regions in Ghana have a prevalence rate below 5%.
Rationale behind Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation may be carried out to ensure pre-marital virginity and fidelity in marriage. It is believed that FGM reduces the female’s sex drive.
It may be seen as a way of initiating the girl into womanhood.
Female Genital Mutilation is carried out for aesthetic reasons. It is believed that some parts of the female genitals are ugly and dirty and should thus be removed.
Some also justify the performance of FGM using religious doctrines.
Effects of Female Genital Mutilation
There are short-and-long term consequences for females who undergo FGM. Some short-term consequences include severe pain, excessive bleeding, genital tissue swelling and death. Some long-term consequences include infections such as chronic genital, reproductive tract and urinary tract infections. Other long-term consequences include painful urination and menstrual problems.
The law on Female Genital Mutilation
In 1994, the Ghanaian government made female circumcision illegal. Those who engaged in the circumcision could be imprisoned for up to three years. This was done through the insertion of Section 69A in the Criminal and Other Offences Act 1960 (Act 29).
The law was further amended in 2007; the term female genital mutilation replaced female circumcision and the penalties increased. Under section 69A(1) and (2), anyone who performs, participates or assists in FGM commits an offence and is liable upon conviction to between five and ten years’ imprisonment.
How can we totally end FGM?
Despite the drastic reduction of FGM from 77% in the 1990s to 3.8%, there is still more work to be done. Ghana cannot and should not rest until her females are protected fully against this dastardly act.
Organization of crusades and sensitization programmes by the government and civil society groups especially in the northern part of Ghana.
The Ghanaian Association for Women’s Welfare(GAWW) has made reports of instances where FGM cases have been reported to the police and yet the perpetrators still were not charged. There is thus the need for judges and local law enforcers to know the law on FGM and give the maximum sentences due to the perpetrators of FGM to serve as a deterrent to others.
Act 29 should be amended further to criminalize the failure of persons to report FGM which is due to take place or which has already taken place. Sanctions should be meted out to such people. After all, the right thing must be done. The fight against FGM is not just for a select few; it is a fight for all Ghanaians.
Cynthia Mamle Morrison, the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, said in a statement to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM this year that:
“We as a community of Ghanaians must demonstrate our commitment to protect our women and girls from human rights abuses to eliminate all forms of violence against them.”
Mother Ghana needs her females alive now more than ever.