On 19 September, I was featured in the Metro which is the third largest newspaper in the UK to share the Girl Child Empowerment Model I developed in Zimbabwe over a decade ago in empowering girls to stand up for themselves and deal with harmful cultural practices like Female Genital Mutilation and break taboos even on least talked about Type 4 which includes labia elongation. Instead of being a Charity leader or a public figure who advocates on such issues without bringing it to my real life experience, I told the journalist that labia elongation happened to me and many other girls and I know it is happening to many African girls even here in UK but the mere fact that it is thought to benefit women later in life does not exonerate it being harmful to the growth and development of the girl child. By the way my story is shared openly and publicly to raise awareness and it is the past that must be openly shared to help researches and inform policies. Many think a girl aged 8 did it voluntarily but bear in mind our type of society dictates everything on your body and there is always a punishment for anyone who resists. Do not say labia elongation is not forced because if your parents command that you do it then there is only one option -to do it.
I am not a type of a leader who uses glossy fliers with pictures of little girls and pointing to them as if I am not one of them. Even I want my sons, husband, male friends and relatives not to imagine what these issues are like. I want them to learn from me. So sharing my story to me is one powerful way to break the taboos and present practical strategies to end these harmful cultural practices. It is a fact that myself as a public figure like any woman or girl out there have genital organs and so talking about being a woman should be norm. Why hide such information when it can save lives? Labia elongation is a secret hidden for years and it has its advantages for SOME older women because of some sexual pleasure myths which are unproven but for girls it can plunge the life of a child into unimaginable pain, trauma, confusion and with medical consequences like cancer. These issues affect women and girls and we should talk about them as much as we do about our jobs, cars, money or just anything. The hidden faces of those who undergo harmful practices is a strategy to imagine the problem. Let me be the face and help save generations to come. At least I spoke about it and I never posted a photo of my genital organ anywhere. Let us not hide true life stories that can inform policy and strategy because we are somewhat some celebrity or public figure. I am now 42 and no longer as powerless as when I was 8. Now am positioned to use my story and life experience to share those hidden taboos no one wants to talk about. Those taboos we hide under guise of culture have led to suffering.
For a long time, I have traveled to a number of countries where Female Genital Mutilation Type 1 to 3 is rampant and I come from a country where Type 4 is rampant and silenced about because they think having labia elongated benefits a woman but more so a man more.The myth and secrecy created around it makes it a taboo subject to an extent word kudhonza -pulling and labia -is nicknamed tin tin. I listened to the many stories of girls who went through FGM Type 1 to 3 (cutting)and never made it back in life because they died due to excessive bleeding during the procedure. It is like putting a child through a major operation with no anesthetic and one can imagine the pain and trauma girls go through in order to make so called husbands happy in the future by keeping them less sexually active and as virgins. To think a knife, razor blade, sharp end of a bottle is taken on a little girl aged six to cut off such a delicate part of her body left me helpless and useless. Even as my friends in the neighborhood got their labia pulled out, daily there were screams and girls shrinking their bodies in resistance. To pull out any part of the body is equally painful just like with cutting. FGM type 1 to 3 is said to have happened to over 100 million girls ever since this practice started over 2000 years ago but often we do not even hear how many little girls lost their lives to the practice. How so sad we stick to practices that harm our little girls. As I said anything harmful to a child is universal because children everywhere must not grow up in situations where they are harmed to justify religion or culture. Why girls is my question?
Some Zimbabwean men and women especially in UK have attacked me(threats to kill me, vulgar language, defamation, hate speech) for sharing that that Female Genital Mutilation Type 4 which is labia elongation is harmful to girls and it can affect their mental well being, confidence and growth into full confident women who naturally can take care of sex and marriage. In fact, the sexual pleasure gains are so exaggerated to an extent young girls are made to believe that sex starts and ends with only one female organ. According to these Zimbabwean Facebookers, labia elongation is not Female Genital Mutilation. Goodness, why should they argue with World Health Organisation who put it under Female Genital Mutilation Type 4 and even up to now they are still arguing whether it should be modification or mutilation? Why did they not form a Facebook page to attack World Health Organisation for that? To think even SOME of them who formed this page, “Betty Makoni is lying” are qualified social and health workers in UK and do not understand labia elongation is Type 4 Female Genital Mutilation is most shocking because then was child abuse not a major course they did in their studies? In my interview with Metro there is nowhere I said women, my focus was strictly on how labia elongation which some parents are forcing their children to undergo can harm them.
As I speak against labia elongation and its silent health and psychological consequences on girls, some women and men are up in arms against me and am aware they will do so just like when there are campaigns to stop those trying to stop FGM Types 1 to 3. But should I keep silent when a little girl inboxes me via Facebook in the middle of the night in UK to ask where she can get the procedure done? Girls born and raised in UK who are getting trapped in this harmful cultural practice need as much help as those in Africa. We need to allay fears on girls and young women who did not have the procedure done on them that nothing of being divorced will happen to them at all because UK where they are, many women who never elongated their labia have thriving relationships and marriages. Many of our African cultures need to be done away with so that young women and girls move their lives forward. There are also many cultural practices in Africa that enhance sex without harming or changing sexual organs and our girls need to learn those as well. It is the fear engulfing some girls and young women we must deal with as a matter of emergency by even having the Girl Child Empowerment Model rolled out where girls must know that there are sexual myths they must deal with now and in future for the sake of their confidence in relationships and marriages. If anyone is harassing me for raising awareness, then it is their own issue and not mine.I serve a constituency of girls and young women and the information am giving to girls and young women is very correct and based on personal experience.
One can not be attacked for defending the rights of girls. It is always the case that in our societies cultural criminals never pay a price.It is always the case that those who are activists and those they seek to protect always pay the price. I never said stop it on women because women are old enough to decide what they want. But I advocate that let girls grow to make their own decisions on their bodies and do not mentally torture or pressure girls who did not do it because there are millions of women who satisfy their husbands and partners with their genital organs in natural form. It is wrong perception that girls with no labia elongation will not make good marriages that I am working hard to stop. This is an old myth that has made men believe to an extent they do not know labia erects on its own naturally during sex. It is time we deal with it once and for all and know that a woman who keeps her natural genital organs is equally a good one. Some women and girls who did not pull labia are accused of causing marriage break ups and many other things. I have received many cases on domestic violence from women who tell me they even went to an extent of pulling their labia longer than before but a man goes to have sex with a 13 year old maid with no labia.
And even as I listened to the women and girls speak during my many informal interactions with them and even as I meet and speak to them now, I am always triggered to share my own experience of Category 4 of Female Genital Mutilation, often silenced about when it comes to ongoing campaigns in the world. What is harmful can not be where one is cut only but it is also those practices like labia elongation where such delicate parts of the body are pulled out and where everyone believes there is a benefit for women and overlooking the many psychological and health issues a girl must deal with before she gets the labia out.It is a laborious and painful undertaking to change like a short finger, leg, neck to a longer size. Equally because there is so much pain there must be medical remedy like anaestatic.
I personally experienced labia elongation at age 8 and so did all girls I grew up with in my community of Chitungwiza whereby adult women forced us to open our tiny legs and then with their big fingers pulled out what they called labia. At age eight I had to be taught to pull my labia out in order to prepare for a future husband. Many other girls in my neighborhood went through it and as I share it widely, I hear it looks like 90% of girls had to know at age eight that they must pull out their labia to please men in future. Four women would call us to a room at around 6 am. As we entered the room they had a jar of cooking oil. Then to start was a girl from next door aged 6. She would be asked to take off her underwear and she obliged but with her little mass of her body shaking. Then next I saw one of the women dipping her hand in black stuff mixed cooking oil called pfuta-they roasted a black wild fruit like and ground it into powder. Two women pulled her two hands so that the little one does not cause disturbances because once they get hold of the labia they would pull it out and they would keep holding it out tight until the girl`s screams became faded. The little girl groaned and cried and as I watched I just said not on me. And to watch a friend naked and crying was heart breaking. To me it was as if the women were committing rape on the girl using their hands. For some reason the women came to me last because I would fight very hard. It was very hard to pull my labia because the first thing is I cried until different sticks broke on my body. They told us that we had to please our men in future. Pulling labia had a big network of women who were so called full time experts.
Girls who were 12 and above who came for labia elongation under supervision of older women had their labia pulled by the women during the first sessions as part of induction. The induction took weeks for girls with what they called “runda” meaning very hard flesh around the labia. The labia for some girls was very hard to find and pull out. Each session of labia pulling would last from 6am till around 9am because no man was supposed to know this was happening. But to be honest, some girls were never sure what they were pulling out because of anatomy of the vagina with clitoris often confused for labia. None of the girls understood the vaginal anatomy to even know which part had what function. Many girls who attended sessions might have gotten the satisfaction that by merely attending and touching whatever part of the vagina the labia was thought to be. It was obviously great for their self confidence. After every session you held your private part to a supervisor to show how long yours were. I remember two girls did it so wrong that they pulled some delicate flesh that got little ulceration. In days they had pus coming out. From my observation as a child nothing really showed out so easily or I suspect in instances where a little flesh came out , some girls had succeeded in arousing themselves. It took quite a long time to have labia out for those with runda-so called hard flesh and those are the ones who suffered the most. There are many more who were so afraid of the pain from their fingers and in such cases the women had to use pegs, thread and sometimes heavy weights tied to their labia whilst the women held them to the floor and checking how far those could make it possible for labia to come out.
Today this practice has spilled over into some churches like that one popular one by wife of a Pastor in Zimbabwe called Mrs Lucia Gunguwo of Eternal Word Ministries International where parents pay at least US$3 per session to have labia pulled out after church sermons where she instills fear in them that divorce awaits them if they do not pull labia or for women who are still with their natural organs she instills fear that their men will leave them. Some girls in UK who heard about her sermons also mistakenly called me and asked if I could help them with labia elongation because their parents insisted it be done after listening to the likes of Mai Gunguwo. One other girl who called me for counseling in the middle of the night told me she would travel to Zimbabwe to meet her aunt as instructed by her parents but she told me she was so afraid. Since she was over 18 I just told her the choice to do whatever she wanted was all hers but if she was a child under 16 I would have taken up the case with authorities to spare her until she is adult enough.
A woman called Carol Wright who recently joined Muzvare Betty Makoni Facebook page was so moved by this issue and had this to say, “I do not agree with any form of circumcision on religious or cultural grounds. I really respect and admire you for bringing this subject into the public light. No girl should endure this in this day and age. You know,when I was 8 I didn’t know what Labia was !!! because I was a child! I learnt about becoming a woman around the age of 12 when my mum educated me about growing up! We should let our children be children for as long as possible.” She is supported by a global child rights expert Martha Nussbaum who argues that the key moral and legal issue with FGM is that it is conducted on children using physical force.
If you come to think how so small a female sexual organ is at age 8 and to think two fingers of an adult woman which are so big would be forced to pull the tiniest flesh inside her vagina you can imagine what we went through. Older girls used pegs and there are some who used thread to make access to the flesh under strict eye of women who did not want them to waste time as puberty was very close. I think the natural set up of labia is such that it must stay as it is. But I think it is in our mindsets that we think sex is enhanced when they are pulled out. Pulling out any part of the body and modifying it is not easy for SOME.
So to all girls who listen to older women saying they did labia elongation and they should do it, bear in mind we are all different. Think about months you have to have until it actually happens and how that stands on their way of your home work and education. Think about the many infections including HIV and AIDS should you get ulcerations. Think about developing cancer later like many women in Southern Africa who die early from the disease. Think about giving birth in future and how the elongated labia can obstruct a baby safe passage out. Think about hurting your delicate parts of the body and the dignity you lose by letting anyone pull them out and intrusive as the whole process is just think what they will say about you afterwards even if this is said to be kept secret. Think about the fact you arouse yourself daily and lose focus on books and your education. Because we were little girls we did not get room to think about it. It was imposed culture on us. Anyone is capable of having sex.When parents ask you to do such a thing , first research on it and seek advice from organisations doing FGM and explain that even if it is not Type 1 to 3 of cutting but even this Type 4 is equally traumatizing. Of course I know not many girls come out on Type 4 but believe me those who shared their fears and anxieties made me break the silence. This subject is so taboo in our communities but it has caused unnecessary anxiety and loss of confidence amongst girls and young women about sex and relationships. Those who talk about the advantaged of having labia pulled out they exaggerate it so much to an extent the myth pushes some men into an imagined woman during sex whereas every woman and girl has enough labia naturally.
As you know the vagina of a little girl aged under 12 and under which is age they insist labia elongation be done before menstruation is still very tiny and small. The girl is just too young to be diverted to issues of books to those of bedrooms. Even many parents would agree with me that it is wrong to teach a child about sex at this tender age. It would be hard to do such a sex education practical with a girl at home and expect her not to start exploring what it means in real life when she meets the men or boys. She would need to make a balance of education she attains at school and a practical sex education lesson at home. We teach young girls about sex much earlier and using myths that cannot be proven and so children grow up with an imagined world of sex where males have to be happy with you. Often we threaten girls who refuse to pull out their labia that they will not get men to marry them. It is a culture of instilling fear and causing anxiety that can later seriously undermine the self confidence of girls. Many parents do not even understand and appreciate what sacrifices girls have to make in terms of pain they endure and many other health issues in order to please men in future. One has to keep an aroused body and sustain it until the man comes one day.
If women in many parts of the world are enjoying sex with no labia pulled out, why do we cause anxiety on our girls and other women to misinform them that sex without labia is not as good. Most of the girls I grew up with fell pregnant from age 13 because by then they thought the so called labia being out they were ready for men and sex. They believed adult women said their labia is ready and they thought men would stick to them because of the labia and so would get the lives they wanted. Love, marriage and relationships was just focused on one genital part at the expense of an understanding that to make love is mutual and natural and involves the whole body and not just one part.
Also we must teach boys and men to know that the natural make up of a girl or woman needs them to elongate their brains and education. There is an urgent need for us to teach our boys and girls that we are all created in many different beautiful ways and that the choice to change our body anatomy and especially the genital organs is up to them and their needs when they are grown up. Yes parents bring children in the world but decision to mutilate or modify a human being can not be justified simply by mere fact that one is a parent. A full human being must be supported to grow and be a full member of a community to make their informed choices. Parents can support the growth and development of a child without cutting or pulling their labia. Whatever is given to a human body can only be supported to stay in its natural form.
It is not only labia elongation that makes sex pleasurable in the bedroom but a whole lot of other factors. We kept it so secret to an extent we cited wrong reasons for getting rejected in a marriage. And even for those who pulled the labia and found themselves divorced or found their husbands impregnating a little housemaid with no labia have even been devastated for life. There is no way we can verify that those women who were divorced had labia or not. There is no substantiated evidence for those causing anxiety amongst women that male promiscuity is justified because some women do not have labia. If we believe that we are merely supporting masculinity and perpetuating violence in our lives. There is a time when myths on sex are so exaggerated to an extent they harm communities and result in silent victims. Even in West Africa where they do the opposite and cut off the labia, we often learn that there are consequences for women who did not cut their labia. The question is who is right about women`s labia in Africa, those who cut or those who pull out? If those who cut manage to enjoy sex how come those who pull labia out think if labia is elongated a woman does not enjoy sex? Who is correct about labia or no labia in the whole continent? I also begin to also think that in the act of pulling labia out, is it not the same time girls are forced to masturbate under guise of culture. Besides, everyone thinking this is cultural, I have a strong feeling that elements of forced masturbation on girls is rife in this practice. You are just forced to pull out your labia as a way to fulfill the cultural norms and expectations of a future sex menu for a man you are not so sure what he wants to see.
We are all wonderfully and beautifully made. Your body was created in such a way that it has everything you need. It was created in such a way that you can love someone but let no one you love and who loves you tell you to cut or pull out their private parts in order to please them. Don`t put lives of little girls in danger by cutting or pulling their private parts. Leave everything on them to grow and mature. There is no way a girl age 10 can be taught today to change her body in order to please a man in future.Let little girls grow without culture cutting or pulling them. Culture protects and it does not harm.
No matter what you call me for speaking out, people you will see I will never stop speaking out. Speaking out is my full time job, it is a calling and it is the only job I know I can do and save lives. People are called to do many things in their lives but am called to speak out. No one spoke for me when I was abused and I knew some could. But now that I have the global platform to speak on anything, you will hear me speak out without fear. It is fear to speak out that makes us hide victims in our homes and countries and pretend all is well. As long as I live I will speak out. Even as a little girl I used to speak out and I used to question things. I know many have been silenced out there even by those closest to them and they have accepted abuse, but tell you what no matter who thinks am good or bad, my voice is permanently out there. I have set up myself in such a way that when I speak out someone will hear no matter how they may pretend not to.
Someone called me an attention seeker ….well well if you are not seeking attention in this world where so many people don`t care about issues on women and children, then what are you seeking. Yes I am seeking attention on this issue because someone more vulnerable than me needs it.Let us seek whatever makes us happy in this world. We are in a free global village to seek attention because we know we get it from those who care. Seeking attention is not wrong.It is a way to call those kind to help.Leave us to seek more and more attention.
A man called Kingston Muchemwa from Zimbabwe and many others of his old traditional club called me to set rules on how I should talk about FGM. I must keep the fact that I experienced labia elongation as a child aged 8 a top secret now that I am married and a public figure. He thinks Shona culture makes this issue private and so I must shut my mouth. Well, I am adult enough to know that I have a private sexual organ like every woman here on earth. I did not undress myself to show anything.I merely share some horrible things that happen to children under guise of culture. When I speak about harmful cultural practice I don’t want to be a hypocrite and pick up a picture of a little girl and speak about her. My story which I share openly and publicly is not unique. If I am the one bold enough to call a spade a spade then why should I make apologies. I am very open about what happened to me as a child and I want my bad experience to bring something positive for children. Having four women hold my two hands and another one pressing my leg down to pull my labia was terrible. It is painful and it caused me harm. If today this is still happening why should I pretend I don’t know something like this? To be frank we all have genital organs and why should it be a taboo to speak about them. To some women having labia pulled out is great for them but for others it can leave permanent health and psychological problems. Why is culture always targeting our vaginae and then man like Kingston press us to remain silent? After all why do such things to little girls? Why cant they wait for me to be a woman to think for myself? Further he says to me that I must speak about FGM Types 1 to 3 only . But why speak about that only when in our Shona culture we have labia elongation that obstructs child birth and cause cancer later on in a woman`s life Well, I say everything I feel harm girls and get society to confront such harm as a matter of principle. The purpose is to prevent this happening to more girls. It is no longer about me but those I seek to save. When a car is harmed or a building is burnt, we talk about it but what if we know girls genital organs are being harmed, why do we keep silent about it?
I also hear some women oppose what came out in the radio. Well, this is a very civilised way. Bring your argument dear sister and lets talk directly. Don`t do it behind my back.Come here on my Facebook wall and lets hear what you have to say. My story and experiences as a child will never be yours. But be civilised and come to me direct and lets talk and get to understand the issue.
WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION – FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION Type IV IS LABIA ELONGATION
A variety of other procedures are collectively known as Type IV, which the WHO defines as “all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.” The WHO does not include cosmetic procedures such as labiaplasty or procedures used in sex reassignment surgery within its categories of FGM (see below).
Type IV ranges from ritual nicking of the clitoris to stretching the labia or clitoris, burning or scarring the genitals, or introducing harmful substances into the vagina to tighten it. Social scientistStanlie M. James writes that Mairo Usman Mandara, a Nigerian surgeon, has described several practices that involve cutting internal genitalia (introcision); these include hymenotomy, the removal of a hymen regarded as too thick, practised by the Hausa in West Africa. They also include gishiri cutting, in which the vagina’s anterior wall is cut with a razor blade or penknife to enlarge it; according to James, this might be done during obstructed labour or to address other medical issues. Izett and Toubia write that it often results in vesicovaginal fistulae and damage to the anal sphincter.
This is the position of World Health Organisation Click Here