TCHAMBA, Aridjetou Oumorou, 65, had been carrying out female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) for more than four decades until 2003, having started as an assistant to her mother, a community healer in central Togo. The region has the highest concentration of FGM/C in Togo.
Five years ago, she and other women who live in Tchamba, named after the community’s predominant ethnic group, were recruited to join a microcredit programme that required her to put down her knife and attend workshops in order to qualify for an annual business loan.
“I inherited my knife and my profession from my mother. The first time I cut a girl on my own, she kept on bleeding and bleeding. I went to my mother who gave me some leaves that I mixed with red earth and placed in a plate.
“I then placed the plate under the girl and she sat in it. The bleeding stopped. If there is a lot of blood and I got it in my eyes, that could be blinding. I know other women like me who became blind from this work.
“If the woman or girl is not a virgin, there can be complications, so we have to prepare her with a ceremony in which we kill a small rooster and cut it in half and rub her body with the bird. We then bury the other half of the bird, asking ancestors for their permission to remove the girl’s clitoris.
“For non-virgins, I was paid more than twice as much because of potential complications, at least US$20 [in 2001]. For virgins, I was paid $6.
“I did FGM/C for more than 40 years, but it was never for the money. It was because my mother had done it. I was trained as a midwife and that is how I earned money for about 30 years. So I knew the risks of FGM/C, but my mother was always there with her remedies if I had problems.
“I left FGM/C behind five years ago. If my mother were still alive, she would agree with this decision. She knew it wasn’t right to be doing what we did, but there was not really a choice. We had to do it because if not, the girls would be insulted for keeping their clitorises. Now, girls do not want this [FGM/C] and people do not judge them.
“I would not go back to doing FGM/C no matter how much someone offered to pay me. When I put down my knife, I made a pact with God – no more. Health comes first. Health over money.”
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