For most of her life Doussouba Diarra, who lives in Mali, earned her living by cutting girls. Now the 63-year-old works with Islamic Relief as an ardent advocate for the abolition of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). This is her story.

“For years and years I circumcised girls in my own village and across the region to help girls become women. Sometimes cutting out all of their genitals, sometimes just parts.

“In many communities across Mali it is seen as a requirement for marriage. The procedure is performed without anaesthesia and by women like myself, who are seen as traditional ‘circumcisers’. We have no medical training, but we learned the trade from our grandmothers.

“When I was a child, circumcision ceremonies were a thing of celebration in our village. Once the girl was ‘cleansed’ there would be a party thrown in her honour. Most young girls would see the celebrations, and want that for themselves, not knowing the dark secrets that only those that went through the tradition knew.

“When girls were brought to me, we would often tie them up during the circumcision. Because it is a physically violent procedure in which we used razors, we would stuff something in their mouths to keep their screams from piercing the sky.

“Most girls are told by their mothers or female relatives that the circumcision is an obligation. They see it as part of their culture and accept it; in fact, they are proud of it and want it for their daughters too. I used to be proud of my work too, because I believed I was continuing an essential tradition to purify our young girls. I didn’t know better, this is what I was taught by my elders.

“I have believed in circumcision almost all my life until Islamic Relief, who were doing an awareness raising project on FGM/C, approached me. They heard I was the chief cutter in my village and wanted to speak to me about what this work was doing to the wellbeing of girls. They explained to me about the dangers of circumcision, how it goes against religious scriptures and that harming anyone is forbidden in Islam.

“I know now that the consequences of FGM/C are serious and long-lasting. That the work I have been doing for more than 30 years has caused both mental and physical harm to girls.

“Through the support of Islamic Relief, I underwent training to become a facilitator and was appointed the gender-based violence focal point in my village. I now lead workshops on circumcision, contraception and family planning.

“I dedicate my life to teaching women to not mutilate their bodies or their children’s bodies; that circumcision is not a prerequisite for earning respect, becoming a mother, or taking care of your family. I wanted to shatter the stories that we were fed as children.

“I try to convince people that we should stop circumcising girls. I speak as someone who has got to know the knife from both sides. I myself was circumcised and I performed circumcisions. I know what I’m talking about. So I tell them circumcision doesn’t help, it’s wrong. Don’t inflict it on your daughter!

“I know it will take generations to undo the damage that was done. Prejudices are very difficult to eradicate. Popular belief is too deeply ingrained, and the social pressure is too great, but if I am able to change the life of one girl, I will feel I am doing my part in eliminating FGM/C.”

With projects all around the world, Islamic Relief advocates to end harmful practices of FGM/C, especially where they are wrongly attributed to religion. Islamic Relief has a critical role to play in targeting the supposedly ‘religious and cultural’ justification for FGM/C in all its forms – as part of general and multifaceted efforts to put an end to the practice. Islamic Relief works with cutters local chiefs, village elders, religious leaders and other role models to encourage lasting behavioural changes.

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