Imagine you’ve just had the most painful experience of your life, and then you’re left in a room for three months with your legs tied up so you can't escape. Then you’re married off against your will to an older man you’ve never met and he beats you every day. Damaris was just 11 when she had FGM. This is her story.
As we sat in her hut, in a small village in northern Kenya, with her tiny daughter Chapkopus, two, wriggling on her lap, Damaris told me about her life. It was easy to tell that she was naturally shy, but that she urgently wanted to tell me what she had been through.
FGM: I didn’t even know what it was
“When I was 11 I was forced to undergo the cut," Damaris told me. "I didn’t even know where on my body I would be cut but I did know that I didn’t have a choice, nor did my four friends. It happened really early one morning.
"We were all given a stone", she continued. "We sat on them facing east where the sun rises from. We were cut one after another. One girl fainted. I was last so I watched all of my friends before me – I cried and tried to run away but I was held back.”
As I heard this I had a lump in my throat that I was willing to go away. How could I, the listener, cry when Damaris, the survivor, was so strong?
After Damaris and her friends were cut, they were taken to a hut where they were left alone for three whole months to heal.
Damaris said, “We spoke about how we were forced to undergo something we didn’t know about and that we wished we’d known as we would’ve escaped the night before.”
FGM led to forced marriage
Damaris had no idea that FGM often leads to marriage. She only found this out the day she and her friends were taken to a house full of men. One girl disappeared.
Damaris explained, "After I saw this I heard that she’d been married. This was the moment I knew this was going to happen to me. It did, two months later, to a complete stranger who was more than twice my age and beat me from the start."
Scared for her baby's life
Damaris had her daughter soon after. Her baby was very sick but her husband didn’t care, he just continued to get drunk and regularly beat her. “Then he locked me inside to beat me while my baby was outside – alone", Damaris explained. "Something snapped and I had to leave. What if he killed my child?”
The next day Damaris travelled through the bush by foot to her parents’ house. She was black and blue.
How ActionAid has helped
Soon after returning home Damaris met Catherine who is part of the ActionAid supported Tanglebei Women’s Network. With a shine in her eyes, Damaris told me about how this group is changing her life. She has shared her story with other women and it has given her strength. She is learning business skills so she can provide for herself and her baby. And she is making friends.
"Thanks to the group, I feel better every day. ActionAid gives us hope and strength. Every time I leave the meetings I feel really hopeful."
My final question to Damaris? Would her daughter go through the cut? Even though I knew the answer, it was still incredible to hear what this spirited 14-year-old with such passion said: “Never. I won’t ever allow my daughter to undergo FGM. I want her to go to school so she can be teacher or a medical doctor.”
This summer thousands more girls are at risk of going through the terrible ordeal that Damaris has been through. But a donation from you will help us teach more communities about the risks of FGM. Please, make a donation now, so we can protect more girls.
Photos: Jennifer Huxta/Actionaid