I Performed Female Genital Mutilation On Girls & Now I'm Speaking Out

Photo: Courtesy of Plan International/Seydou Dolo.
After performing female genital mutilation on 1,500 girls in her community, Mariam Damba has made it her mission to ensure her village, and the world, ban FGM.
Editor's note: Mariam Damba, 65, lives near Kita, in southwest Mali. Damba's mother and mother-in-law both performed Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) — locally known as excision — on girls across their community. One of the four major types of FGM, excision involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, and sometimes the labia majora, according to the World Health Organization. The W.H.O. estimates that more than 125 million women alive today have been cut.

Over the past 30 years, Damba said she has excised more than 1,500 girls. But when nonprofit children's rights organization Plan International came to her community a few years ago, Damba learned about the dangers of FGM and the risks it poses to young girls. Since then, Damba has made it her mission to ensure FGM is banned in her community and beyond.

Damba shared her story with Plan International and Refinery29.
"I discovered the practice of excision when I was a child. My mother was an excisor — so was my mother-in-law. In Mali, the job of an excisor carried with it great prestige and these women were held in high regard across society.

"When my mother-in-law was invited to excise girls in a community, I accompanied her and assisted when she needed help. Girls excised were no older than 2 years old. Around three to five girls would be excised in one sitting. Excision was very painful for children. Generally, excision was performed in the evening, around 5 p.m., in an isolated place, such as the toilet.
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I worked as an excisor for almost 30 years, cutting over 50 girls across seven villages in our county every year.

Mariam Damba, former excisor
"Little girls were taken away from their mothers, stripped naked, laid down on their backs with their legs spread wide, and held still by the excisor’s assistant. The excisor used a small, sharp knife or blade to cut the tip of the clitoris without anesthesia. Blood spurted and flowed freely over the body.

"Most children would scream because of the strength of the adult’s hands coupled with the great pain caused by the injury. As soon as the girl had been cut, a traditional mixture was applied to stop the bleeding. The girl was wrapped in a warm blanket to speed up the coagulation and returned to her parents. One after another, other girls would be taken to the dark, isolated place to suffer the same fate.

"When my mother-in-law finished work for the day, she was paid in money, poultry, cattle, or cereals. Excisors were socially and economically envied by the other women.

"As my mother worked as an excisor, it was inevitable I would become one, too. When my mother-in-law died, a few years after my own mother had passed away, many women from my community were insistent I take over.
Photo: Courtesy of Plan International.
A traditional female circumciser in a remote village in Tharaka Nithi, Kenya holds a blade. Plan International has joined efforts with the cultural elders in the Tharaka Nithi community to seek their support in changing attitudes toward FGM and other forms of gender-based violence.
"Even though I’d only ever observed excision, I felt I had enough knowledge needed to perform this task. After much hesitation, I started accepting regular requests from the community, as the ‘work’ is profitable. Practitioners are economically stable. They earn their own wage and they carry a lot of social prestige.

"I worked as an excisor for almost 30 years, cutting over 50 girls across seven villages in our county every year.

"Several years ago, Plan International and its partner organization, E.R.A.D. (Equipe de Recherche et d’Action pour le Développement), came to our village to raise awareness about the risks of FGM and the associated gynecological problems.

"Villagers were shown photos and videos to get a better understanding of the procedure and the dangers of it. Emotional support was provided for women and they were able to understand more about the issues they faced and how it had happened.

Little girls were taken away from their mothers, stripped naked, laid down on their backs with their legs spread wide, and held still by the excisor’s assistant.

Mariam Damba, former excisor
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"The link between FGM and cases of keloid, dysmenorrhea, and urinary incontinence soon became clear, and it wasn’t something I wanted to be part of anymore. Five years ago, I decided not to practice excision anymore.

"Soon after, my village decided to ban the practice of FGM — just one of many. In fact, Plan International is working with 180 villages across Mali. So far, 74 villages have agreed to abandon FGM.

"It is heartening progress. However, more needs to be done. Going forward, I want the whole country to ban the practice of excision. It is cruel and has no benefits for girls. It only has disadvantages that dishonour women in their household.

"I am committed to supporting this campaign and raising awareness...The fight against excision is a long and tiresome challenge. It could take time, but I am convinced that we will be able to defeat the practice of excision."

This story was provided by Plan International, an independent child rights organization. You can read more about its "Because I Am A Girl" campaign, which is focused on supporting millions of girls in getting the education, skills, and support they need to move from poverty to a future of opportunity, here.

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