Faith Mukwanyaga, 48, a married mother-of-four in Meru, eastern Kenya, remembers the pain of the female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) she underwent as though it were yesterday. Today, Mukwanyaga is a facilitator for an alternative rite-of-passage organized by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Meru with the support of the Catholic Relief Services NGO, using her own experience as a warning to young girls about the dangers of the practice.
"Circumcision was something I looked forward to, knowing it would mean I had become a woman at last. I knew that women who were not circumcised never got married and never earned the respect of the community - I saw them discriminated against by their peers, and I didn't want to be like them.
"One day when I was nine years old, my family prepared a large amount of traditional brew and lots of women came to my house to cook a feast. I knew my circumcision was soon because my female relatives had been preparing me for the pain of the cut by pinching me in the days before. I and several other girls were then stripped naked and wrapped in blankets before being washed; the ladies sang for us as the circumciser cut the girls one by one - she used the same tool.
"The pain was indescribable - my whole body hurt, I almost fainted. I bled so much that I had to have special herbs put on the wound to stop the bleeding. I then spent several days alone at home healing. One lady was assigned to me to wash me and feed me and ensure I healed properly. During the healing period, I was taught other things; I was prepared for sex and marriage.
"When I got married, I found it difficult to enjoy sex; although I had a healthy sex drive, my husband found it very difficult to please me sexually, and I have always felt that something was missing from my sex life.
"Giving birth was terrible. Each time I gave birth, the scarring from my circumcision meant I had severe vaginal tearing and bleeding, and I had to stay in the hospital for about a week after birth, when other women went home the same day they delivered. Giving birth was like being circumcised all over again.
"I would never allow my girls to go through circumcision - the physical effects alone are a terrible and painful burden, but even the counselling I received after the cut [only] prepared me for marriage. My peers who were never circumcised all went on to complete school and have successful careers, but I had been told the most important thing in life is to be married and respected in the community; many of these women never married, but because of their careers they are respected.
"Today I tell young girls about my own experience so that they can aspire to greater things than just marriage; they should seek education, not the pain and suffering of female circumcision."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions