“I want a safe and healthy future for girls, where FGM does not happen,” says Shadia (20 years old) from Sudan. Together with Plan International, she campaigns in her community to raise awareness and prevent FGM.
More than 86 percent of Sudanese girls and women (ages 15-49) have undergone some form of FGM. (UN Women’s Global Database on Violence against Women). This is while the circumcision of girls and young women is a violation of their rights. They are struggling for life with the physical and emotional consequences of this procedure. Examples include chronic abdominal pain, severe menstrual complaints, difficulty urinating, complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and an increased risk of HIV infection. Psychosocial consequences such as fears, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and negative impact on sexuality affect girls and women for life.
“You told me I was circumcised”
Shadia is one of many Sudanese girls who have been circumcised at an early age. You cannot remember the time of the surgery. She was very young at the time and during her childhood she didn’t really notice that this had happened to her. But when she started experiencing such severe symptoms during her menstrual period, she knew this was not normal.
Shadia went to her mother and said, “I’ve never had such convulsions before.” Then her mother told her that it was because she was circumcised. Shadia asked her mother why she did this to her. “I didn’t understand that when I was young,” Shadia says. “But now I understand.”
Read also Saadia’s story from Somalia: “I had to take the pain.”
Shadia’s parents did not allow her to be circumcised to harm her. For them it was a part of it. This stems from deeply entrenched social norms. Misconceptions and harmful gender stereotypes discriminate against girls and women under the guise of “protecting their honour,” but often parents are not even aware of the harmful consequences for their children.
In 2020, the government of Sudan took an important step: the circumcision of girls and women was prohibited by law. This is only the beginning, says Annika Krestek, Director of Plan International Sudan: “The main challenge now is to ensure this new law is properly implemented. This can only happen if everyone – especially parents, leaders, girls and young women – becomes aware of this law and its consequences.” .
Shadia creates awareness
Making everyone realize is exactly what Shadia wanted to do. When she contacted Plan International, she began working with other young women to raise awareness about FGM. By talking to people in her community, she wants to prevent more girls from being circumcised. It provides information about the harmful consequences of the procedure and explains to people that it is prohibited by law.
“Plan International has spoken to us about the dangers of FGM,” Shadia says. Every time we meet parents who want their daughter circumcised, we tell them this is wrong and against the law. We also talk about our own experiences and about the negative health consequences that young girls have to deal with. This way we try to create more awareness.”
How does Plan International help?
Together with girls, young women and young activists from communities – like Shadia – Plan International is working in Sudan to end FGM. 21 girls’ associations were created to speak out about the negative social norms that affect their lives. Here, girls and young women learn leadership skills, and gain the confidence to speak out and campaign for change in their communities. They do this by talking to families and making them aware of the consequences of FGM.
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I want the girls to live a normal life from now on. Let them make their own choices. It is their future.
Ending female circumcision
Shadia and the other participants in the girls’ association are working hard. I hope for a healthy society where female circumcision is not performed. I want a safe and healthy future for girls,” Shadia says. “We have to build their future. What happened to us is a thing of the past, we can’t change that, but I want the girls to live a normal life from now on. Let them make their own choices. It’s their future.”