Tia* was 10 years old when she was taken to a rather sullen middle-aged woman in her community for female circumcision. She was not anesthetized and the lady used an unsterilized razor blade to cut her. Tia cried loudly. Her mother slapped her across the face and threatened to hurt her if she kept crying. But instead she bit her mother’s hand and screamed in protest for the rest of the procedure.
Tia is married now, but remains plagued by complications from being cut. It started with infections after the procedure. Now that she is more susceptible to vaginal tears and wounds, it is nearly impossible for her to carry her own child.
Sadly there are many stories about women in India just like Tia. But she is not just any woman from the Bohri Muslim community, she is my good friend. As a journalist, I had often written about the social, psychological and physical toll of female genital mutilation (FGM). But when I learned that a close friend had gone through it too, I decided to dedicate my life to fighting the practice and changing its perception as an acceptable cultural norm.
At the Red Elephant Foundation, we actively engage in efforts to put an end to female genital mutilation. For the most part, information about FGM is distributed through research documents and briefing papers that speak about the crime and highlight global statistics. We knew that the approach to educating the Bohri community about FGM had to change.
Through digital media-based advocacy, we present real stories of women who have survived FGM or who know of loved ones who have survived FGM or who work to end FGM. In this way, we help people in the community realize and understand the human face of those affected. We help them understand that it is not just about the sheer numbers, but that the individuals who experience FGM are real. We inspire people to take action.
Tia was forthcoming with her story because she felt it would help increase awareness in her community. We are going to release her story as a video testimony later this month. We need to continue sharing these stories so that we can prevent FGM from ever happening to girls in the Bohri community again.
*Names have been changed for the women’s protection