The conversation is heated. There is no yelling or raising of the voice, but the exchange is intense:
"I will never be cut, over my dead body. For how long shall we remain desperate in this dry and barren village? It's a vicious cycle, I bury you, then you bury me with the same sorrows instead of forging ahead and helping those who are weak.
"How can you allow your child to die within like this as if you didn't give birth to me?"
It is a question that lingers, and the Mother barely has an answer:
"I'm defeated by all your stories. I am just confused."
In Central Pokot, Kenya, young girls are refusing to be cut. They would rather commit suicide than endure what their mothers and grandmothers underwent with female circumcision or female genital mutilation (FGM).
I saw photographs of young girls being held down by women they had known all their natural lives. These same women would usher them in to a life of communal pain and misery.
And there seemed to be no end.
But the girls of Pokot have had enough. They are verbally sparring with their mothers and resisting the steely stares of their fathers.
Nancy Tomee, who spoke in the beginning, is fierce as she continues to battle her mother:
"But I can see a flood coming and all you people just want to hold us back. I'm moving forward, moving forward. I'm heading to the land of milk and honey. My passion for education is driving me. Look hard for someone else to cut as long as it is not me."
After Nancy asks her mom one last time if she will still cut her, her mother is silent.
And Nancy is not alone.
A grassroots group called "Kepstono Rotwo" or Abandon the Knife, works hard to educate the rural village people of Pokot about why FGM is unnecessary. But as an African myself, I understand how culture and tradition is a sticky thing. Culture and tradition bind us. It gives us purpose and value -- but it can also senselessly harm and kill.
And the Kepstono organization totally get the intricacies of FGM in their society. In Pokot, FGM is the central part of the rites of passage ceremony for girls. Without the ceremony, there is no way to mark a girl's transformation from child to woman.
So they make a plan.
Why not create an alternative rites of passage ceremony that ushers their girls in to the world of womanhood without the cutting?
A part of Kepstono is Jane, who is a warrior.
She is relentless in speaking with the parents of girls who don't want to be cut and making them understand all of the many drawbacks of FGM. She, herself, has had the unfortunate experience of FGM and serves as the community's midwife. She explains why FGM has been able to continue for so long:
"Most of the people here, they just refuse to think. They choose not to see the consequences."
But these young girls can. They've seen their mothers suffer and they want no part of it, but it isn't just Kepstono and a few recalcitrant girls who are fighting against the cutting. There are some Mothers who are putting their marriages on the line in order to save their daughters.
Gertrude is another girl who doesn't want to get cut. She is the oldest child and only girl for her parents. While Gertrude is understandably scared and quiet, her mother stands up to her father and holds her ground. The father fleshes out many of the pressures and fears he faces not forcing Gertrude to be cut. As a matter of fact, a potential husband has been put forward and Gertrude's grandfather has already accepted the dowry:
Father: "My father asked me about Gertrude's suitor. I told him we were progressing ... now what can I say? You explain to my father."
Mother: "I'll go meet with that old man!"
Father: "You must be aware that once the Pokot take a person's goods, you are committed?"
Mother: "Taken goods? I didn't go through labor pains for my daughter to be sold like that! Are you crazy?"
Father: "Others are cutting their daughters. I will be the laughing stock when people are enjoying the beers they get for their daughters."
Mother: "I will not cut my daughter for that."
Father: "So you are the one who suggested my daughter run away?"
Gertrude's mom is quiet -- yes, she is the one who sent her daughter to her grandmother's house for safety.
At the end of the argument, Gertrude's father refuses to eat and tells his wife he wants a divorce if she insists on ruining their only daughter. Even though he physically pushes her away, Gertrude's mother remains steadfast:
"He's angry now, but when he calms down, hopefully he will think about what I have said."
Kepstono Rotwo have arranged their own rites of passage ceremony and 130 girls have pledged to attend. Nancy will attend the ceremony, and both of her parents will come. Gertrude also gets blessings from both of her parents to attend and take part in the sacred ceremony.
When the ceremony begins, 175 girls have showed up. The girls are educated about all of the health problems that exist with cutting off the clitoris and labia majora and then leaving a small hole to urinate. The photo they show to the girls leaves everyone speechless (pictured right).
Then they have a young woman who also hasn't been cut speak with them about self-empowerment, myths and having a better life with education. It is just the type of concrete model the girls need to stay strong and confident in their decision.
One of the best parts of the short film is watching the girls go through the actual ceremony. They are joyous and proud, and they dance through the streets so that everyone can know that they were initiated into womanhood without being cut -- something that has NEVER been done before.
Nancy holds no punches in her celebratory speech. Not suprisingly, she has become the leader and spokeswoman for her group:
"I tell you Mothers, I am truly sorry for this milk that has been spilled forever. We now know all the secrets and lies that you have been telling us. Now we know there is no shame in being uncut.
"I refuse to witness my mothers' suffering and then to repeat the cycle. I have decided to set an example. I am going to be a role model. I will be an example."
The work of Kepstono and the presence of these uncut women have sent shock waves through the community. In reaction, one young man said:
"My principle is, I'm going to marry an uncircumcised woman. Period."
It is wonderful that the progress of Pokot, Kenya, is now immortalized in film. Communities throughout the world can learn from these fearless girls -- now women -- of the village. They had an age-old problem, female circumcision, and community members were steadfast in finding a way to solve it.
They argued, reflected and considered until they came up with a solution that made sense. Then they took the time to visit as many households as they could and had full-blown ideological conversations to show people that what they thought didn't make sense.
That type of action doesn't need to just happen in villages or remote places. It needs to happen in Compton, California; Brooklyn; Newark, New Jersey; New Orleans; and Atlanta, Georgia. It needs to happen wherever black people are so that they can rethink and refocus their efforts on methods to supplant age-old problems with tangible solutions.
It can be done. It has been done.
The world needs to watch out for Nancy, Gertrude and all the other girls-turned-women who said no.
In the meantime, watch this community's journey here:
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