First-hand accounts are the most valuable source of information we have on the success of our interventions. Below are three success stories concerning our work.
This midwife recognizes that throughout the 12 years she has been working, all the women she has visited from countries in sub-Saharan Africa have practiced FGM/C: “All of them, so now there will be another generation of these women who have had these daughters that maybe now they are, I don't know, 9 or 10 years old, that these girls are not mutilated. But all the women I have visited have undergone the mutilation and in different degrees”.
This experience has allowed her to create bonds of trust with the women she cares for, which is why she considers it easier to approach the issue with midwives who, as she commented, show a slightly more open attitude towards cultural diversity than other health professionals who sometimes show a more closed attitude "[Speaking about the approach to FGM/C] if at any time she wants to talk about it, she has to come for us, for the midwives, that is what we leave very clear. To leave a little, well, the circuit, a little bit so that you know you can go”.
This difference in positions regarding the ease of dealing with certain issues about migrant groups has led her to detect that many of the health professionals have prejudices towards the practice and many blame women. To reverse this situation, she claims the need to conduct systematic and in-depth training for all professionals. "There is a lot of penalization and there is a lot of stigmatization because they don’t understand, that is, ignorance of the culture of others is what causes this ignorance of others, it is what causes blaming women, when it really is the system".
Following a trip to the Gambia to see her family, she became interested in the subject of FGM/C and ended up doing her Final Degree Project on it. This happened when the daughter of a friend of hers was mutilated: “when I went to the Gambia and my friend told me this and then after the mutilation I was with the girl and I saw that the girl was really sick, that she was crying, that she had no medication ... She had to ask me ... if I had something for the disease, because she had a fever and so on ... It was like "wow, wow, wow ... What is going on? What's going on?".
From her point of view, the practice is slowly being abandoned by migrant families residing in Spain, as for example in her case, in which neither she nor her sisters are mutilated. The lack of prevention in the health services stands out, highlighting the fact that no professional has ever discussed this issue with her or her mother, even though they come from a country with an very high rate of performing FGM/C.
On the other hand, she explains that in The Gambia the practice is still deeply rooted. Personally, she thinks that the taboo on this subject must be broken, in order to be able to speak normally in the consultation, although some families are a bit reticent. Applying it to her personal experience, she admits that she has tried to talk to her mother about the issue, but her attitude was closed and she didn’t want to force the situation further.
In the case of this woman, she explains that no health professional has ever told her about FGM/C, and that despite she has been through it, they have not been able to detect it either, she comments that she is not sure that her midwife knows if she has undergone through it or not: "I don't know. Because she always checks me out but she hasn't asked me any of that".
She argues that it is a subject on which she is convinced that more information should be given in the Health Services. She has never discussed the issue with any of her acquaintances from countries where the practice is carried out who reside in Spain, even though she knows that they have also undergone FGM/C; Therefore, the possibility that they have the same information that she has on the consequences of FGM/C and received through health professionals, could open a dialogue.
The only person with whom she had spoken on the subject was her husband, since an interest arose in knowing what FGM/C was and why she had it done. With this she could tell that it is a practice related to her country of origin and in which she did not have the opportunity to decide, having practiced it when she was very young: "He asked me why we do this female genital mutilation. And I have explained to him what the culture is there. But they did it to me when I was very little and I couldn't decide “I want this or I don't want that". It was very, very little. And so I explained to him".
B.F., a 65 years old village health worker (VHW), is a Mandinka by tribe and lives in Misera in the central river region of the Gambia. He has been a VHW for up to four years. With his position and training from the ministry of health, men, women and children visit him to seek for medical assistance on minor ailments such as malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia etc. He also facilitates environmental hygiene /sanitation and serves as the focal person for health care based programmes for his community.
According to him, he has never had training on FGM/C before his first training with WGK in February, 2020. He believes the practice of FGM/C is reducing because he has not heard it performed for the past 3years. Even though the community is a Mandinka community (the largest practicing ethnic group), the practice has virtually disappeared “maybe they are aware of the complications the practice causes to their health” he said.
B.F. is in support of the law banning FGM/C he said “I support the law banning the practice of FGM/C because I believe it has complications so it should be stopped.” He believes men have a role to play in the decision making
M.K. is a 59 years old village elder from Tuba Kuta, West Coast Region of The Gambia. He is a member of their Village Development Committee and also Village Support Group for 7 years now. In addition to that, he is a fish vendor. M.K. is from the Bambara tribe who are also known for their deeply rooted practice of FGM/C.
According to him, he is fully in support of the performance of FGM/C as it is an old tradition and believes it is part of religion for him. “Yes, it was advised by the prophet for both men and women to undergo circumcision.” He said when asked, If FGM is mandatory by Islam. He believes it is a good practice and not harmful to women’s’ health. He said, “They said it is not good and it also harms a woman but they did not tell us how it harms a woman. And we have been with our women and other women but have never seen any problem related to the practice of FGM/C.” He believes that if a woman has not gone through FGM/C, it is difficult to sexually satisfy her, thus, doing the practice will reduce promiscuity among women.
M.K. is totally against the law and believes before the banning of the practice, there should be sensitizations as the law is trying to impose things against their traditions. When asked if he would support the law here is what he said “No, I did not support the law and I shall never support it because I have a different view with the law with regards to the practice of FGM/C the law said it is bad and I believe it is good.” And he added that he won’t accept any alternative rite of passage that does not involve cutting. “You can never do a ceremony for some who is not cut. That is a waste of resources.”
"This training is good. It's actually changed my life because before it I had a different idea of what female genital mutilation (FGM) is. Before, when I heard somebody say that FGM is no good I told them they didn't know what they were talking about because it's our culture and it's our people that do it. I used to call these people out and tell them the practice was a good one. But later on, when Wassu Gambia Kafo came to train us, I found out that I had the wrong idea about what's going on. What I've learned here has changed my life because I was a victim myself, as I said in class here. I was circumcised when I was nine years old. I was in year two, but when they took me there they didn't tell me anything. In the morning they said, "We'll give you bananas, you'll get lots of bananas today". So I was happy. I told my friends we were going to eat lots of bananas. Then we went there and I found myself in a critical situation and I suffered a lot. It was horrible for me because the haemorrhaging they were talking about today... that day I was bleeding, bleeding a whole lot. They tried to help me to control the haemorrhage, but it was a really bad day for me. This training has changed me a lot, I've learned a lot about these complications.
I'm a community nurse, close to the community, so now what I plan to do is, when I go back, I'll try to sensitise my people, especially my traditional midwives and the health workers in the villages. I'll sensitise them and the people with influence in the settlements. I'll talk to them and explain the negative impact of FGM.
I feel very proud of Wassu Gambia Kafo because they're helping the nation. You're not just helping individual health workers but the whole nation. By training health workers you're training the whole nation. As health workers we're the ones who work with the community, so if you train us we can go to the communities, tell our stories and pass the information on. I'm happy because you're changing our lives. What we thought before and what we're seeing now are different things. So definitely, Wassu Gambia Kafo, thank you very much."
"I really like this meeting about female genital mutilation (FGM). We need to analyse it critically and listen carefully to your advice to prevent its complications. I'm a witness to them myself, in my own daughter after she was circumcised. She went for two days without urinating and I and my wife tried to force her to open her legs to urinate, but she kept closing them for fear of the pain. All that happens out of ignorance about the effects of FGM and today you've come along to explain them. Now we realise that what we used to do as part of our culture has consequences. So we ought to talk about stopping this practice.
I didn't know about the effects before but now I do and I'll be one of the first whose daughters won't be circumcised because I've seen the consequences. Prevention is better than cure so we should promote dialogue because we Alkhalos are always in meetings in different places. It makes sense to get people involved in this and get the women to promise to start talking about it in meetings, local celebrations and ceremonies in a friendly way.
My role will be to stand my ground and make sure the people in my village and the neighbouring villages are informed, because you can't give training in all these villages. So it will be up to us to explain all about FGM and about its benefits, which have to do with passing on knowledge, singing and dancing, but the cutting has to stop because it causes complications.
"Today, if circumcision was on somebody's mind, that person has changed and if they were thinking of circumcising their daughter they've stopped, and why is that? Because of the information that Wassu Kafo gave to the people of our country which we are thankful for because it's for our future and our leaders' future. I value it, the same as many other people that are here like me. And if God is with me on my return to Jokadou Dassilami, as the wife of the younger brother of the Alkhalo (village chief), I'll make sure to spread this information in Dassilami.
And from now on, if anybody wants their daughter circumcised, they'll have to look somewhere else for a "circumciser", because I, my hands, won't be doing that job ever again."