The horrors of genital mutilation of women who have suffered tribal girls in northern Kenya have been exposed by survivors and perpetrators of the procedure.
Indigenous Pokot tribe women told how they were cut without their permission by relatives, or otherwise ran away from home after discovering they would be subjected to the potentially deadly operation.
Meanwhile, a group of women who performed the operation told how girls were subjected to the operation without anesthesia and punished if they cried or recoiled.
Their stories were revealed by British charities One woman at a time, which is meant to help women escape from a life of FGM, abuse and forced marriages.
Christine grew up in a village that does not practice FGM, but was eventually cut after she married a man from a neighboring settlement where the procedure is common
Christine was secretly cut during the birth of her child (pictured together) and knew nothing of the procedure until the wound was seriously infected
A survivor, identified only as Christine, told how she grew up with her grandmother in a village that does not practice FGM before meeting and marrying a man from a neighboring village.
After they were married, she was then taken to a village where his practice is common, where she was quickly banned, with him and his in-laws.
She said: ‘I was not allowed to cook him food or milk the cows because I was told that I was unclean. Other women avoided saying that I was a bad omen and that I made their milk sour.
“They also said that I smoke because I was not cut so that they would keep their nose over when they passed me.
Salome ran away from home at the age of 13 when she heard she was going to be cut – three days traveling through the Savannah without shoes and sleeping in trees to prevent lions
“When the cows died, they blamed me. The loneliness and being treated that way, I was so scared. “
Shortly thereafter, Christine became pregnant with a baby boy named Silas, and when it was time to give birth, she was taken in by the family.
She described the birth as “really painful,” and said the birthwaters were forced to keep her legs down when the baby was born.
Without Christine’s knowledge, her mother-in-law had paid one of the servants to perform FGM while she was giving birth, and even cut her baby’s head.
She only discovered what had happened after she had contracted a potentially fatal infection and was taken to doctors.
Describing the type of wound inflicted on Christine, a six former scissors – who say the practice stopped in 2012, shortly after it became illegal in Kenya – explained that it involves complete removal of labia and partial removal of the clitoris.
The vulva is also sewn together to prevent sexual intercourse.
Women often have their legs tied together while the cut heals, with a follow-up inspection to make sure she is “small” enough not to be ashamed of her family.
“No crying or even facial gestures should be shown, if they show fear they will forfeit giving up a young man and instead get an old man,” one of the women revealed.
Christine revealed that doctors referred her to the police, who were sent to arrest the tribal birth guard, who pointed the finger at Christine’s mother-in-law.
She claims that the mother-in-law subsequently paid the officer, and no action was taken against her mutilation.
Worse still had to come.
Gladys fell victim to forced marriages and FGM before she turned 12 and suffered a dangerous birth due to the consequences of the operation
Despite a painful birth, Gladys was back in school just a few days later to make a better life for herself and her son
“My husband threw me out and saved my son, so I went back home – but my uncles said I would have embarrassed the family. The only one who would take me in was my grandmother, “Christine added.
Avoided by the only villages she had ever known, Christine received support from One Woman At A Time to retrain and is now studying as a teacher.
Another woman named Salome said she was only 13 years old when she heard she would be cut and married to an older man she had never met.
Instead of submitting herself to that fate, she fled her native village without any idea where she was going and only one shoe.
‘I just ran and hid, ran and hid. It took me three days to run across the mountain and I slept in trees at night for fear of lions, “Salome said.
“After a few days I was exhausted and I met a woman by the stream who seemed friendly and I told her what had happened.”
The woman took her to a refuge where Jean Anderson – founder of One Woman At A Time – met her for the first time.
Salome also studies teacher training and has since been in contact with her parents, who welcomed her.
Ortum school in Kenya, where many of the girls rescued from FGM are raised as educated
A third girl, 15-year-old Gladys, fell victim to both FGM and forced marriage before she turned 12 when she arrived at the Ortum school, where many of the rescued girls are being trained.
She recently became pregnant during sex that she claims to be consensual, and in October she suffered a risky and painful birth as a result of FGM.
Despite the fact that she was in pain, she quickly returned to school to take a three-hour exam in her efforts to build a life for herself.
The Pokot is a tribe that lives in Kenya and Uganda, where around 750,000 people speak their native language.
Their tribal rituals and habits stem from the need to ensure the survival of the family in an often harsh environment, but are considered increasingly obsolete.
Of the 750,000 Pokot speakers, it is assumed that only around 35,000 have a tribal lifestyle, not all of whom subscribe to FGM.
Traditionally, the cutting season takes place between November and December and includes young girls between the ages of 12 and 16, with the idea of keeping them ‘pure’ for marriage.
As with child marriage, the practice is now banned in Kenya, with a maximum life sentence in prison if a girl dies during the proceedings, but so far there have been no successful prosecutions.