Sarafina Loriakwe has lived with the psychological challenges of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for several years.
She says every time she thinks of forced cut, she cries a lot.
“The experience has been painful to me because, it happened when I was aware of my rights, and how they violated them, citing traditions,” narrates Sarafina from Lolkunono village in Samburu.
While in school, she had undergone some training on empowerment and knew the dangers that lurked in the female cut.
Sarafina recalls the incident vividly. She had just sat her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in 2013 at Maralal DEP primary. She was afraid, as they left school to go home and face the cut, yet, her fellow pupils were excited and celebrated.
“Fellow pupils were excited ahead of the cut because they knew it was a ticket to maturity,” she says. “According to them, that meant absolute freedom to date and engage in love escapades without distractions from parents.”
She home and found preparations for the painful ritual, which she underwent alongside her younger sister.
“Although l was afraid, l tried to be brave so my younger sister would not be frightened. When you cry during the cut, you are despised, branded a loser and your family is laughed at.”
Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter
That evening, they shaved their hair, applied red soil and went to fetch water in the river. At night, there were celebrations ahead of the cut the following morning.
After the cut, Sarafina bled a lot and lost consciousness. They gave her fresh cow blood so ‘she could regain the blood she lost.’
Like Sarafina, many girls and young women still face the cut despite government ban of FGM, which World Health Organisation (WHO) describes as the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
In 2001, Kenya passed the Children’s Act that prohibits female cut, and ten years later, passed the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2011 that banned female genital mutilation nationwide.
Under this law, it is illegal to practice FGM in Kenya or to take someone abroad for it.
“The practice has no health benefits for girls and women. FGM can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths,” WHO warns.
Yet, according to UNICEF, at least 200 million girls and women alive today living in 31 countries have undergone FGM/C. The practice varies from community to community and it is considered worldwide as a violation of girls' and women’s rights.
She, however, resolved the forced cut will not dent her future dreams. Sarafina joined Falling Waters Secondary in Nyahururu and scored B-(minus) in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations.
She is now about to complete her Bachelor's in Mathematics and Statistics degree at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.
Sarafina has benefitted from the Survivor Leadership Programme (SLP) by The Girl Generation (TGG) - Support to the Africa-Led Movement to End FGM/C Programme, which engages community-based activists who are best placed to understand their communities and perceptions surrounding FGM/C.
At the time of joining the programme early this year, Sarafina reveals she was still undergoing emotional and mental turmoil and low self-esteem as a result of the cut.
“The training, especially the self-care was good. I learned there are small things that l can do like calming my mind and appreciating myself. It helped reduce trauma. There are times l woke up, feel bitter and cry after remembering the cut. Now am much better, as l continue with the empowerment,” she says.
Dr Leyla Hussein, Global Advocacy Director and Deputy Team Leader, for The Girl Generation-Support to Africa Led Movement to End FGM/C explains some of the psychological effects that survivors of FGM/C or any form of violence face including flashbacks, anxiety and depression.
“The programme is designed to empower survivors and grow not into a community of women who went through a difficult experience but are giving more than what they went through. We also believe that they should be able to access funding to support their grassroots efforts and movements,” she explains.
A psychotherapist, Dr Leyla specialising in supporting survivors of sexual abuse and FGM adds that they also provide survivors the right tools to so that they continue with advocacy on FGM/C.
Another beneficiary of SLP is Mumina Jirmo from Isiolo County. She explains, as a young woman, together with her sister, they were forced into the cut.