Anna (not her real name) and her husband are in their thirties and have been married for eleven years. They live in Singida region and have three children – ten year old twins and a three year old boy.
Anna was subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) when she was very young. She did not realize that it would bring such dire consequences to her life, especially in her marriage. She and her husband both agreed to speak to Doris- our young activist who was in Singida to learn more about FGM in the region. It was truly brave of both of them to be very open about their personal experience, but Doris learnt that it was part of their joint effort to put an end to FGM in their community.
Anna’s husband, Baba Sule, recounted his experience, as a husband and father:
I know this may sound disrespectful to my wife, but that is not the case here. I had been with other women before I met my wife. I worked as a porter or lorry driver for transit Lorries in and out of the country, and so I had spent most of my life outside this region.
When searching for a wife, I decided to follow tradition to the letter. I did not want to be physical with her until after our wedding. And so I waited anxiously for the night of our wedding to finally be with my wife. Unfortunately, it did not turn out at all as I had expected.
I believe that marriage is truly complete when everyone else has left at the end of the wedding party, and the couple consummates their marriage. I was not able to consummate our marriage the way I had planned. I felt guilty that I might have forced myself on her... I was very confused.
Day after day, it was the same, we couldn’t consummate our marriage. I was not happy at all. Maybe because she knew about her condition? I was not sure because I did not understand it at all and she didn’t explain anything. I decided to seek advice from my parents and after some discussions, they told me to face her and ask her.
So when I got back home I pressed her to tell me the truth. She relented and told me that she had no desire at all to be physical with a man. She was scared that when she finally does, she will be in a lot of pain. I asked, why? Did she have a medical problem? She told me that she had a problem that she only came to know of at her puberty. She experienced a lot of pain during her menstruation. When she questioned her mother, she was told that her grandmother had cut her when she was young. That was when I realized that she had undergone FGM.
Well, eventually we just did it...it did not get any better, but life had to continue. And finally she got pregnant with our first and second born, the twins. It was scary during her delivery. She was in a lot of pain and she lost a lot of blood. We were lucky that at the time we were at my uncle’s place in Arusha and so we attended a good hospital, Mt Meru hospital. It was a difficult birth and it scared me a lot. The doctor talked to us and she recommended a lot of rest for her to recuperate. You know, what they did in the past was to remove both the outer part [clitoris and labia], the scar could not stretch…you know…so it took a while for her to heal.
So after the doctor’s recommendation we waited a while to get our third born, the one you just met. We got the twins in 2009 and the third born in 2015. It was also a very difficult birth. She lost consciousness during delivery and I was afraid she may actually be operated on. God is great because she persevered and she delivered normally, but she still lost a lot of blood. After understanding her situation from the first birth, I decided to be more prepared and ensure that I could keep her safe and be there for her. So when she was pregnant, I would work extra hard and save enough for any eventuality. It’s a lot to worry about.
And so there are high consequences of FGM that I had never known of before. You would not really realize it when you are out there in the society without experiencing it firsthand.
I love my wife and would not wish to lose her and so we have decided that the children we have are enough.
Have I ever considered marrying a second wife because of this? No, I don’t think it is a solution. Even if as a Muslim my religion allows me to, I still don’t want to. What if she comes with other problems or even destroys the peace with my family?”
Baba and Mama Sule are an exceptional couple that has been able to rise above the challenges caused by FGM and face them together. Not many families are able to do that, and sometimes this leads to tragic consequences.
Rose (not her real name) had a different experience to relate to Neema, the young activist who visited Kipunguni Centre on her journey to understanding FGM. When Rose was married, her husband had specifically wanted a woman who was cut. However, this preference did not last long. Since her sexual desire was greatly reduced, she was not very happy in her marriage. Her husband translated this unhappiness as her criticism of his manhood.
He became abusive verbally and physically. He went on to have extra-marital affairs and blamed that on her. She was very miserable in her marriage. She endured the abuse, believing that she could not leave her children or raise them on her own. She would always bear beatings when he came back home drunk.
After a while, she could not bear it anymore and decided to commit suicide. She took an overdose of pills and threw herself in a well nearby. Luckily, her brother-in-law saw her jump in and went after her. He managed to get her out in time and take her to the hospital. She survived the attempt and was sent back to her home. When the husband found out what happened, he gave her a broken rib and extensive bruises from the beatings he rained down on her.
She survived a suicide attempt and an “attempted murder” in the span of 48 hours.
Rose was able to leave the abusive marriage, eventually, and now lives with her children at the Kipunguni community.