In Summary
  • Maryam is a devout Muslim from the Somali community.
  • To become a respected member of the community, one has to pass through the tradition.
  • It is meant to prepare the girl child for marriage.
  • That is, to preserve her virginity and discourage promiscuity.
  • Girls are taught from an early age of its importance as a religious obligation and a family honour.
  • Do you have feedback on this story? E-mail: [email protected]

Maryam Sheikh Abdikadir was six years old when she underwent the cut. Now in her forties, she describes the pain of the ordeal, which is embedded in her memory, as unimaginable.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was normal in her community but it turned out to be the single most painful memory of her childhood.

She had been waiting for this moment. The moment when she would become a woman.

Deep down, she was fearful of the impending pain but she had no choice and alongside five of her peers, she stood in line to wait for her turn to be cut. She was the last in line.

INFIBULATION

“My community practices infibulation which is excising the clitoris and labia of a girl or woman and stitching together the edges of the vulva to prevent sexual intercourse,” she says.

Maryam is a devout Muslim from the Somali community. To become a respected member of the community, one has to pass through the tradition. It is meant to prepare the girl child for marriage. That is, to preserve her virginity and discourage promiscuity. Girls are taught from an early age of its importance as a religious obligation and a family honour. There is a general consensus that marrying an uncut woman is unacceptable within the social group. It, however, does not take up the role as a rite of passage as in other communities.

She revisits an all-too-sharp memory of the day she underwent the cut: 

 “I shivered and shook all over; butterflies beat madly in my stomach. I wanted to vomit, the waiting was long, and the expectation of pain too sharp, but I had to wait my turn.”

HELD DOWN

With the blessings of her parents, she was held down by the cutter as two other women held her legs open. She cried herself hoarse until she passed out. When she came to, she was met by ridicule and cajoling as the women laughed at her cowardice.

And so it came to pass that six-year-old Maryam became a woman. Little did she know that she would revisit the issue much later when is campus and that her painful menses every month when she came of age would be a constant reminder of the same.

GROWING UP

Maryam grew up in the border town of Liboi in Garissa county until the age of four when she moved in with her auntie in Mbalambala Sub-County.

Her quest for an education manifested itself early as she sat outside the classes of a nearby school admiring other students. Her guardians were not keen on enrolling her to school until she asked if she would attend and they gave her a go ahead.

She was elated. She stepped into a classroom for the first time when was seven years old. A gifted learner, she sailed academically in her primary and secondary school years.

“In 1989, I became the first woman to join campus from North Eastern Region,” says Maryam.  

Maryam Sheikh Abdikadir on her graduation day in 1995. PHOTO| COURTESY

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