Men couldn’t hear the girl’s screams

One small bit of good news, for a change.

The movement to end genital cutting is spreading in Senegal at a quickening pace through the very ties of family and ethnicity that used to entrench it. And a practice once seen as an immutable part of a girl’s life in many ethnic groups and African nations is ebbing, though rarely at the pace or with the organized drive found in Senegal.

But good news of that kind is of course always too late for some…for many.

Bassi Boiro, the elderly woman who was Sare Harouna’s so-called cutter, said she always performed the rite before dawn under the spreading arms of a sacred tree, away from the settlement.

“Men couldn’t hear the girl’s screams,” she explained. “They are not part of this.”

Four women would hold down the arms and legs of each girl, usually ages 5 to 7. For years, Mrs. Boiro said, she used a knife handed down through generations of cutters in her family until it became “too dull to even cut okra.” She then switched to razor blades.

But Mrs. Boiro says she has now accepted Sare Harouna’s decision to end the practice and speaks about the harm caused by her life’s work. “I didn’t realize it was my doing,” she said.

Muusaa Jallo, the village imam, was convinced of the need to stop the practice and has spread the word in many other villages. As his toddler impishly poked her finger through a hole in his sock, he placed his hand gently on her head and said, “I have already decided this one will not be cut.”

His 8-year-old, Alimata, sat solemnly to the side, her eyes downcast.

“I will abandon it like my parents,” she said, almost inaudibly. “I won’t do it to my daughters. It’s not good to do that, and they did it to me.”

8 is very young to know that it’s too late for you.


  1. says

    Even as I read the good news at the beginning that the practice will soon end, my heart was sinking for those girls who will still be mutilated in the meantime. And those who have been already.

  2. chigau () says

    “Men couldn’t hear the girl’s screams,” she explained. “They are not part of this.”
    The girls in the places where this is done cannot get a husband if they are intact.
    Still, this sounds like good news.

  3. Woody Tanaka says

    Let’s hasten the day when no child, girl or boy, is genitally mutilated. What a great day that will be.

  4. Art says

    On the up side the battle is being won. A good thing. On the down side, what do you say to the last person to die in a war already won; or to be mutilated in the dying moments of an archaic cultural norm.

  5. David Hart says

    “The girls in the places where this is done cannot get a husband if they are intact.”

    If that is true, then that too is a lever that can be used, in principle – if enough young men can be persuaded to stand up and say “I would prefer to marry an intact woman” – or indeed, if enough parents come out and say “no son of mine is going to marry a woman with important pieces missing”, then that can only help to hasten the demise, albeit at the cost of making it harder in the short term for girls who have already been sliced up to find a partner. In practice, how to spread this attitude? I guess it will require some brave local leadership. But if FGM is something which is done out of earshot of men, then surely even spreading information about exactly what’s involved – just plain telling boys in graphic detail what the procedure is – will help …?

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