Aïcha Nour, Djibouti

I grew up cutting girls. I could earn up to 5,000 Djibouti francs (22 Euros) for each girl I cut. We cut the labia, then glued everything back together with traditional products, leaving a smaller or bigger hole according to the mother.” Aïcha realized what she was doing thanks to a course given by the NGO Tostan. “We heard on the radio about some after-effects, but no-one came to us to explain it all. I thought it was just nonsense…” Aicha then became a member of her neighbourhood management committee and voted in favour of “a public declaration of abandonment of female genital mutilation”. She threw her knife away in front of her community.

Aïssatou Diallo, Guinea/Belgium

Four years ago, Aïssatou left her country to save her daughters from FGM: “Because I still remember the pain of my own cutting like it happened yesterday, because I saw a young girl die in front of me, and others whose lives have been cut short because of this…. I couldn’t let this happen to my daughters. But over there, my sisters-in-law had the same rights as I do to my daughters. And they were determined to preserve the family’s honour. My daughters were constantly threatened, I was beaten. After years of fear and rejection, when all hope and strength had almost left me, I left. Today, my daughters are safe, I feel alive again… But I want to fight for the 3 million little girls that are threatened each year. My dream? To be able to say, ten years from now: ‘I am one of the last women to be cut.’

Céline Verbrouck, Belgium

Céline is known throughout Europe for her court pleading to denounce female genital mutilation. This Belgian lawyer uses the law to eradicate excision. She founded INTACT, a non-profit organization with the aim of protecting young girls and ensuring international agreements are respected: “FGM flouts fundamental human rights. Nothing can justify that. Law, be it civil, criminal or the right of asylum, offers us essential solidarity tools to try and save children, our children… whether they were born here or abroad, whether they live here or abroad. In this fight, it is necessary to offer these women and their family protection. We are all concerned by this issue and have to address these responsibilities.

Comfort Momoh, MBE, Nigeria/Ghana/United Kingdom

Even men call me, before their wedding: ‘Comfort, you have to help us. You know the problem of African women….’ Yes, I know.” For 25 years, Comfort, a midwife and public health specialist, has been performing disinfibulation (vaginal reopening) to allow women to have sexual intercourse or give birth. She founded the second specialized clinic in England in 1997. “When we first started campaigning against FGM in the 80’s and early 90’s, communities were angry. They threw eggs and stones at us. They told me: ‘You come from Africa. Why do you talk about these things?’ But, now, we will succeed in eradicating this practice, just like foot binding in China.

Coumba Toure, Mali, France

Toure was cut when she was 12 and grew up to become co-founder of GAMS France in 1982. She promised to herself she would never let her daughters endure this. “When I started to fight against this tradition, it was inconceivable that an African woman would reject traditions. I was insulted, attacked. Since then, important steps have been taken but people’s mentality changes slowly. Mothers were told that the cut was the/a source of femininity and of fertility, that it boosted sexuality; that girls who weren’t cut were of easy virtue. So they do it for their daughters’ sake, believing it is God’s will. They don’t know they are mistaken. They are not savages or barbarians. They just don’t know that the fundamental difference between women who have been cut and others, is pain. An entire life of pain.

Dr Ababacar Mbaye Diaw, Senegal

I was confronted with excision in my wife’s family.” After he graduated in medicine in Moscow, Ababacar flew to Belgium in 1992. He dreamed of specializing in gynecology, but ended up in radiology. Still, it’s him, the African guy, who’s called on to take care of infibulated women. “I told myself: people from the African diaspora are messengers; they are the ones we have to work with.” Ababacar founded GAMS Belgium (Groupe pour l’Abolition des Mutilations Sexuelles féminines: Group for the Abolition of Female Genital Mutilation) with his compatriot Khadidiatou Diallo, and another branch in Senegal. “Such butchery has no use, unlike male circumcision, which can have a medical necessity.

Hélène Diallo, Guinea

Hélène is a nurse. For a long time, she cut young girls, like she was taught by her grandmothers. Parents would pay her with pagnes, money, oil, or large chickens. In the hospital, she saw the damage caused by genital mutilation. “When women had to give birth, there was not enough space for the baby to come out. We had to cut, above and under the vagina. The skin tore. I decided to bury the knife and quit this practice.” Hélène and her husband opened a small hospital in Conakry and they take in orphans. “I regret perpetuating this custom. Now I pamper the children.

Kandas Condé, Guinea

Kandas is 25 years old. He works as a coordinator in a youth centre 50 kms away from Conakry. Since he was a kid he has been called ‘happy youth’ because he loves helping his community. The centre in Coya informs youth aged 15 to 25 years about responsible sex, unwanted pregnancies, and female genital mutilation. “Almost all girls at this age have been cut. In my opinion, it is a crime, but I can’t tell them that. I have to be open to discussion.” In this region, many think that uncut girls are easy. “Awareness can be like a flash in the pan. We have to start over all the time.

Kourecha Ahmed, Djibouti

She poses for the photograph with her four days old daughter, who is yet to be named. Kourecha works as a midwife in Ali-Sabieh (Djibouti). Friends of hers sometimes ask her to cut their daughters. “I always say no. I try to explain why. I can still feel the anxiety of the time I was cut. It still haunts me in my sleep. I was seven years old. All my friends had already gone through it and I couldn’t wait to experience it. Nobody told me: ‘from the first day until when you will give birth, you will feel pain, you will suffer from burning sensation, tears, you will never experience pleasure with your husband and you will have to be cut for the delivery of your first child.’ Nobody…

Mama Sayon Bangoura, Guinea

Mama Sayon is very influential in her neighbourhood. Until recently, she helped poor parents get their daughters cut. “I picked kids up in the streets. I brought them to the hospital or to the old women in the forest. I was wasting all my money to dress and feed them.” Mama Sayon was convinced she was helping her community. “My niece told me I shouldn’t do it anymore. Many people suffered because of this practice. If it was a good thing, how come so many women died because of it?” Today, Mama Sayon uses her influence to banish this practice. “No girl has been cut in our neighbourhood this year because I said it was no good.

Omar Ciss, Senegal

Omar is an actor, member of the Kocc Barma theater company in Rufisque (North part of Senegal). He discovered the theater-forum in Burkina Faso. “This is the most efficient way to make people aware.” One of his plays broaches the subject of female genital mutilation. “We all have people around us who practice this custom. In some villages, it is forbidden to use the word ‘excision’. During the show one of the actors says it anyways and the other answers: ‘Be careful, you can’t say this here’. People in the audience laugh. We provoke them without hurting them, as a way of engaging them in the debate. If we don’t talk about it, we can never solve this problem.

Roukia Youssouf, Djibouti

She is 37, has 6 children and a voice that can shake walls. Roukia works as a midwife and holds training sessions for teenagers. “Who can tell me why girls are being tortured in this country?” “For men’s sexual pleasure”, “for aesthetic reasons”, “so that the girls don’t sleep around”, are the answers she gets. “What else?” Roukia had her eldest daughter cut in the maternity hospital “because it was the done thing”. Today she is involved in the fight against female genital mutilation, together with a religious leader. “When you meet an illiterate Bedouin woman, you can talk as much as you want, she will only listen to the religious man.