“I thought I was going to lose my daughter!”
Near-death experience of daughter turns mother into an anti FGM advocate
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Salwa Jafaar remembers the day a midwife came to their home to perform Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on her daughter.
It was a sad day as Salwa almost lost her daughter to this harmful practice.
“I remember running around, and my head was heavy. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go to the police station and hand myself over. I wanted to tell them that my daughter was dying, and that it was my own fault. I didn’t care about being sent to prison,” said the mother of seven who has been living in Abu-Shouk. a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Al-Fashir in North Darfur state since 2003.
From that day, Jafaar, swore never to subject any of her other daughters to the gruesome practice.
Today, Jafaar is an advocate against the harmful practice that almost killed her daughter, a status she attained after taking part in a UNICEF-supported training as part of the Saleema initiative.
Launched in 2008 by the National Council for Child Welfare (NCCW) and UNICEF, the Saleema initiative supports the protection of girls from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), with a special focus on promoting collective abandonment of the practice at community level.
“I thought I was going to lose my daughter! I knew that day that female genital mutilation was wrong, but the trainings helped me further understand its impact. I now understand that it is a major reason behind the difficult childbirths we go through, and it also causes obstetric fistula. It is the reason we have so many health problems,” Jafaar shares.
Particularly, Jafaar was saddened to learn about the strong connection between female genital mutilation and maternal deaths. The more she was enlightened about the dangers of the harmful practice, the stronger an advocate she became.
Today she is thankful that her daughter made it alive and continues to traverse her community urging members to drop the practice that almost took her little girl’s life.
To ensure that messages against Female Genital Mutilation messages reach everywhere, Jafaar works closely with Hindia Salih and Halima Osman, also residents in the same camp. The three women are certified community facilitators following completion of a UNICEF-supported training.
Community facilitators conduct community dialogues to influence the community into accepting a new norm; keeping a girl Saleema and spreading the message that every girl is born Saleema; let every girl grow Saleema.
Saleema" is the Arabic word that means “whole, healthy in body and mind, unharmed, pristine and perfect in God-given condition.
Over the years, the three women have registered gains from their efforts. They confirm that the practice mainly fueled by inter-marriages is no longer as common as it used to be and continue to use all avenues available to them to sensitize communities against the harmful practice and share reporting pathways.
“We have several girls in high school and university that were not subjected to female genital mutilation,” said Salih.
The great work done by the three women has earned them a good reputation in the community and the community appreciates their efforts to watch over their girls.
They confirm that indeed they watch carefully and make investigations to make sure that girls are safe.
“We don’t want female genital mutilation to happen on our watch and after the law came into place, we are now using it and informing the midwives and families that female genital mutilation carries a serious penalty,” Salih affirmed.
In July 2020, the government passed a law to criminalize Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Sudan with a three-year imprisonment penalty. Legal reform is part of abandonment and UNICEF continues to advocate for the enforcement of the law nation-wide.
“The time for this practice to vanish from our communities is coming very quickly. I believe that very soon it will become part of our history. We just have to keep working and spreading awareness,” concluded Jafaar.