5 decades later I would have hoped things could be better for young girls and women in many parts of the world. But click on this article in the Guardian to learn that the beliefs about womanhood run very deep. Read this article in the Guardian a few days ago. (Delete all the popups so you can read the articles.) 50 years ago I captured this photo of a young girl. Her face shows the resignation and pain as she returned from the Girls Bush School in my village (Gowee) in Liberia. I was only 20 years old and a Peace Corps Health volunteer at the time. Today, I have trepidation writing this blog. But I must, and the Guardian articles encouraged me to tell others of FGM going on in today’s world. 50 years ago, I didn’t fully understand what the Bush School was until Martha, my Liberian confidant, secretly told me the details of the girls’ surgery in the bush.
In my memoir, In Search of Pink Flamingos, here is an excerpt from Part VII, Chapter 49, Girls’ Bush School:
…After observing the poor sanitation practices in my first country delivery, [months earlier] I expected the surgical complications could be dire. If country medicine or midwifery treatment failed, massive scarring, infections leading to infertility or even death would ensue. As a nurse, I was aware of these outcomes from any untreated infections in the pelvic area. I couldn’t bear the thought of the pain they endured without anesthesia. My mind raced. Could this be the reason for Martha’s infertility?….
These young girls had little option but to follow their predestined path…. Is bush school the price to pay for being a girl: suffering painful surgery, being denied choice and sexual pleasure, and risking infection and infertility? Oh dear Lord, what…a price…to pay.
Five days later Martha summoned me again as the twenty-five girls, led by the midwives and female elders, paraded through the village. The midwives chanted in Gio as the girls followed them through the center of Gowee. My attention was drawn to the girls’ beautifully marked white face-paint that accented their forehead and eyes along with perfectly cornrowed hair. New lappas adorned their virgin mutilated bodies with careful attention to expose their plump non-sagging breasts. All those adornments announced: here was the new bride material for any man ready with a handsome dowry to add a wife to his family… [In the group I found] Matu, age eleven; Nora, age eight; and Yah, age ten. With my arms weighted in despair, I raised my camera to take their photos and document history in the making. Only then did I see the pain reflected on their sober aching faces. Did they know their lives would never be the same again? Most of the girls were not yet teenagers and some may not have experienced their first menstrual cycle….The girls who sat in front of me carried an obligation and duty: to welcome their man at any time from that day forward.
I felt helpless and insignificant. This experience was so painful, I shut it out from my mind. During the remainder of my stay in Gowee, I never brought the topic up again to anyone, not even Martha.
I am asking you to not painfully put this out of your minds as I did 50 years ago. Let us talk about it and support those who have had this done to them. I see periodic articles like these in the Guardian reporting that these surgeries are also currently perform in the U.S. Click on this link to learn how 20 organizations are fighting the battle and how you can help. Let’s stop the young girls and women from dying. There has been progress, but much more work to be done.
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