My Personal Experience with Female Circumcision
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.
Female circumcision removes all, or part, of the female genitals. It's also called infibulation, or, by critics, female genital mutilation. Communities in some parts of Africa, and some Muslim communities, practice this ritual with the purpose of marking the transition from childhood to womanhood. But there have been cases of female circumcision in the United States, and other western nations, by families who come from cultures where the practice is common.
According to the United Nations' Children's Fund, each year an estimated 2 million girls around the world, mostly in Africa, will likely undergo the procedure. 17-year-old Ayan Hussein was a young girl when she was circumcised. She decided to talk to older women in her community, as well as some of her peers, about their thoughts on the practice. Youth Radio sent us her story.
Ms. AYAN HUSSEIN (Female Circumcision Victim; Reporter, Vox Newspaper, Atlanta): I'll never forget what happened. I was only seven years old. I saw the way other women come in with diseases. My mama knew the pain I felt, so I'm wondering why she held me down. Why me?
Now, at 17, my views at this issue are clearing up. I'm living in U.S. I'm searching for answers. I can't get them from my mom, so I started asking other women from African cultures to explain. Like Rasheeda Muhammad(ph), who is from Sudan. But it's not easy getting answers.
Ms. RASHEEDA MUHAMMAD: You know, it's really, there are some things--we don't talk about it. You don't discuss it. It's personal. It's so taboo to talk about sex in general, and to talk about that subject also, it's something you don't discuss it with your friends.
Ms. HUSSEIN: Why?
Ms. MUHAMMAD: It's part of the culture. Its part of what they believe.
Ms. HUSSEIN: Our culture is different from American culture. Sex is an open discussion in the U.S. compared to back at home. No one among the (unintelligible) questions for my circumcision. African women like Rasheeda say that my circumcision is a right of passage.
Ms. MUHAMMAD: My own opinion is like, you know, now you are not baby anymore.
Ms. HUSSEIN: Ah, does that mean that the girl who is not circumcised is a baby?
Ms. MUHAMMAD: Um, maybe. I'm not sure.
Ms. HUSSEIN: What makes one a woman and not a girl? Surely a part of their private part has got the answer. In fact, my peers here in America, like Yeosha Morgan(ph), think that the girls who went through circumcision have a lot to deal with.
Ms. YEOSHA MORGAN: I mean, you don't think that they're evil or anything, but you really don't ever think of it every happening to people who are very modern. People mostly think of it as like a tribe in the woods and nobody ever sees them. I never thought of it as somebody who was like me, like I was.
Ms. HUSSEIN: I am like any of the teenagers. Just ask people like Juhavia Etheridge(ph).
Ms. JUHAVIA ETHERIDGE: She's still, you know, a goofy girl. So, I mean, she's a good person and she's sweet, so that doesn't affect, you know, her personality or anything. I just think--she's strong. She's been through a lot.
Ms. HUSSEIN: If you met me you wouldn't know I'm circumcised. You'd be surprised how many smart women still think that the process is good. Like a woman Rasheeda described to me.
Ms. MUHAMMAD: I just recently heard that--I have a friend, she's really well educated, she has really high position in my country, and she has two girls. And she circumcised them because she said she talked to her physician there and she told her it's just a little thing, you have to do it. And now, it's healthy.
Ms. HUSSEIN: I don't agree that it's healthy. I went through pain, physically. Something that, to this day, I'm still not comfortable going into details with.
Just like with every other girl from African countries like Halo Kadees(ph). It's like, really messed up, you know? Not everybody is open about it like me. Some girls are afraid of bringing shame to their community.
Yeah, I don't think they're supposed to do this thing. Did you ask why it was done to you?
Ms. HALO KADEESH (African teen): Uh-uh.
Ms. HUSSEIN: You never want to ask why? I don't know. Do you know?
Ms. KADEESH: Do you know?
Ms. HUSSEIN: Yeah, from all the people that I talked to. It was an old tradition of old people, back in the days.
Ms. KADEESH: So, you're trying to say you're in the United States now--they don't have to do it again. Is that what you're trying to say?
Ms. HUSSEIN: I'm trying to say that it's an old thing.
Ms. KADEESH: Okay. All right.
Ms. HUSSEIN: Back in the day they say the meaning of doing it.
Ms. KADEESH: So, you know this stuff. You know what is it about. That's good.
Ms. HUSSEIN: Halo doesn't know a lot of stuff. She don't talk to her mom or do research like I do. She says this is the difference between me and her. But I'm not through looking for answers.
I love my people, and I just happen to have a different belief when it comes to this issue. I will always love my mom. As years pass, I have come to an understanding of what she was thinking at that day in that room.
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Ayan Hussein is a reporter at VOX Newspaper in Atlanta. Her story was produced by Youth Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.