A day in a Cutter’s life

Written by Fardosa Hussein

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Unsplash

Her phone kept ringing the whole time… “Are you sure you don’t want to pick those calls,” I asked.

“They know I’m busy. I’ll attend to them when I’m done,” she said with a smirk on her face.

Sumeya* is a trained health practitioner with over a decade’s experience in maternal health services. But for the past four years, she has found a side-hustle — circumcising young girls.

The demand for her services has been rising among Somali families living in Nairobi and environs,

“FGM has been practiced by the Somali people for generations. I have a responsibility as a health practitioner to provide safer services and avoid medical complication that arise from the operations even though I am prohibited by the law to do so”, Sumeya says when asked about her ‘side hustle.’

There is high demand for her services during the school holidays. Sumeya visits her ‘clients’ in their homes as the families find it as a safe haven from the law. “We are aware that the government does not allow FGM but we cannot let our girls stay uncircumcised”, says a mother whose daughter underwent the cut courtesy of Sumeya. She declined to be identified as she is afraid of the repercussions for allowing the operation to be done on her six year old daughter.

I accompanied Sumeya to one of the homes where she has been summoned to conduct the operation. Sumeya explains that the style of circumcision she performs on the girls is stage one — the removal of the entire clitoris, and in most cases, the adjacent parts of the labia minora (small lips) and sometimes all of the external genitalia, except parts of the labia majora (large lips). She assures me that the girls will have a better-shaped clitoris and that the health complications involved in this stage are less harmful to the girls’ health.

But the operation she conducted on the two girls was far different. She performed the Pharaonic cut or Infibulation and female circumcision are not mentioned in the Qur’an, and Islam as such does not require any female genital mutilation infibulation. \Unlike traditional cutters, Sumeya gave the little girls Lidocaine (local anesthetic) to numb the pain. And instead of using malmal (the resin from the Dhaddin tree which has been used as an antibiotic and a generic pain reliever by the community for generations), Sumeya dispenses painkillers to be taken by her ‘clients’ after the operation.

After an hour at the home, Sumeya bids the family goodbye and leaves to go to the Parklands suburbs where two other families are waiting for her to cut their daughters.

“Nothing changes about this job, I charge them fairly and offer them my services”, Sumeya says.

Her charges range from Sh3,000 for every client upwards to Sh5,000 for those who are well off. The cut takes less than half an hour.

this story was first published in The Star on the 06–02–2018