This year, a group of five young Tanzanians: Diana Lukumay, Rebecca Gyumi, Dr Joakim Mabula, Doris Mollel and Neema Ngelime, embarked on five journeys in five different regions with high prevalence in female genital mutilation (FGM): Manyara, Arusha, Dodoma, Mara and Singida; to understand why FGM prevails more than 20 years after it has been illegalized.
In this series that gives a glimpse into the practice of FGM in the country, the survivors bravely recount the terrifying ordeal they are put through.
Nanyori* (16) met with, Diana, one of the Influencers who visited Arusha region. She was staying in a safe house at the time, and this was her account of why she was there:
“I count myself as one of the lucky ones because my parents were more knowledgeable and refused to put us through female genital mutilation (FGM). Although his relatives pressured him a lot, my father did not give in. Unfortunately he passed away when I was in form two. That was when my uncles and cousins got their chance to demand that I underwent FGM. My mother tried her best to shield me from them. I had to go to my mother’s relatives every other holiday when we suspected that they were planning to cut me.
Luckily, when we returned to school for Form Four Level in January, the school decided that we would remain in school the entire year. I kept in touch with my mother and just before my Form Four national exams, my mother told me that my uncles had planned to cut me and marry me off as soon as I returned from school.
I was very worried, as I didn’t know what to do. I had heard rumours of a pastor who helps girls but he did not serve the same denomination I was in, and so I wasn’t very sure he would help me. When I couldn’t come up with a different idea, I looked for him and he was very kind. He promised to speak to my mother and together they would work out a solution for me.
And so when I went back home after completing my exams, my mother confirmed that my uncles’ plans still prevailed. They had planned to cut me and marry me off the very next day, the second week after my return. Can you imagine?! I’m still not sure whether they were planning to have me cut at the man’s (betrothed) place or somewhere else!
My mother talked to the pastor who was away from Arusha at the time. After much contemplation, my mother sought the help of our pastor who agreed to host me until the return of the other pastor. I stayed with them for two weeks, without the knowledge of my uncles. When the other pastor came back, he took me to his family and I stayed with them for two days before I was brought here to the safe house.
It still hurts me so much that I’ve gone through all this because my father is not alive today to defend us.”
Sara* (18) a survivor in Mara Region, who also trains and volunteers at Masanga Centre, was ready to share her experience with Rebecca:
“In my family we are all cut and circumcised.
In 2013 I came here [Masanga Centre] to learn different life skills [as part of the alternative rites of passage programme]. When I graduated and went back home, my family took away my certificates and all the presents I got and burnt them.
I didn’t fight them but I had made up my mind that I would come back to the Centre to further learn. In 2014, a lawyer came to our school to talk to us about FGM, as it was the seasonal year for cutting. She also told us about the safe houses we could go to in case we were at risk of cutting. I knew I had to run away from home. And so the next day after school, I came straight to this safe house and asked them to stay. Since I did not have any change of clothes, I had to go back home to get some. Some police officers escorted me home to get my change of clothes and my brother tried to keep us away. Eventually after some struggle, I was able to get my clothes and the police escorted me back to the shelter.
After the camping days [at the Safe House] were over and the season had come to an end, it was time to go back to our families. I had been informed that my family was still planning to cut me as soon as I got back home, and I was scared to go back. So I spoke to Sr Jermaine about my fears. It was decided that I would be escorted home by the police and my parents would have to sign a contract not to cut me.
My parents agreed to sign the contract. That night, I found out that my parents still wanted to cut me. I went back to the Centre and I told Mr Mluga. My mother came for me at the centre and assured Mr Mluga that there was no plan to cut me. Later that evening he took me home and spoke to my parents that it was important for our family to stay together and asked them not to cut me. He insisted that I should continue with school and promised to take care of my school fees and all requirements, as long as my parents did not cut me. My parents agreed and the next Monday I went to get my exercise books and stationery from the Centre, and went to school.
On Friday the same week I came back home from school and I found my family in a very happy mood. I was happy that the atmosphere in the house was better again, and I felt relaxed. That evening, my mother asked me to escort her to the farm the next day, and I agreed.
The next morning, my mother woke me up at 6am to get ready and a few minutes later we left the house. While we were on our way, suddenly my mother stopped in front of me and just stood there. As I was asking her why she’s not moving, I was surrounded by a group of masked men who seized me and started carrying me away.”
To be continued…
*Not their legal names