For Adama, the worst thing about being cut was the betrayal. Her own mother – the one person who was meant to protect her more than anyone else – had allowed her to be irreversibly mutilated.
Adama was a child and living in The Gambia when her aunt and mother secretly arranged for her to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a procedure involving the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.
“What happened to me took away my trust in my mother,” says Adama. “I was seven years old, but I still remember everything.
“My father was away traveling and my aunt used this as an opportunity. She and my mother knew my father was against FGM. The night it happened, we walked for around two miles until we came to a gathering of people. There were lots of girls I didn’t recognize and many strangers that I never saw again. The only person I knew was my aunt, who held my back. My mother had told me nothing before I went so I had no idea what was happening. I didn’t understand that it was FGM but I knew that it hurt.”
FGM is usually carried out on girls between infancy and the age of 15 and can have serious lifelong consequences for the victim. It is typically performed without anesthetic, using unsterilized equipment such as a razor, knife, or glass.
In many cultures, like Adama’s, FGM is rationalized as a rite of passage into womanhood. But in reality, it is a human rights violation, and an extreme form of violence used to control female sexuality.
“FGM is not just about cutting the clitoris, it is about suppression, control, and indoctrination,” says Adama. “When you cut me, you are telling me that I cannot enjoy my sexuality. It is totally wrong.”
Now 23 and living in the US, Adama is a United Nations youth advisor and part of a vibrant youth movement committed to the UN’s Global Goal of ending FGM by 2030. She believes that the best way to achieve this goal is through education.
“In as much as we hate FGM, the truth is, it is a deep-rooted cultural practice which has been passed on from generation to generation,” she says. “For us to succeed in our endeavors, we need to educate the masses on this issue. This way we are not only creating awareness on the dangers of FGM but giving women and girls around the world the right to have a say about their bodies.”
While it took a long time, Adama says she has now forgiven her mother for facilitating her own experience of FGM.
“I used to be very angry,” she says. “I felt [my mother] was a very weak woman, she got carried away with cultural norms and didn’t stick up for her own children. But I now know that people need help and education to understand that FGM is wrong. Mothers must be empowered to speak up against it, and parents who have protected their daughters need to be given the opportunity to share their stories.
“The goal should be to understand each other. That’s the only way we will end FGM in a generation.”