Defying traditions and empowering girls

Elsevier, The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, Issue 3, March 2020, Page 183  
Talha Khan Burki

Halfway through In the Name of Your Daughter, a group of high-spirited Tanzanian men outline their thoughts on female genital mutilation (FGM). “If you have not cut your daughter, she'll remain at home and she won't get married”, insists one. “A cut girl won't be promiscuous, but if she isn't cut she'll sleep around everywhere”, adds a second. “In our traditions, when a girl is cut, we marry her off to get cows”, explains a third. “For one girl, you get 15–20 cows. Don't you see that's a lot of cows?”

December is cutting season in Tanzania. Let there be no doubt as to what cutting entails. It is the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, typically using a razor blade, without medical supervision or anaesthetic. Sometimes the girls bleed to death—there were six such fatalities during the season in which In the Name of Your Daughter was filmed. An on-screen inscription at the beginning of the documentary notes that thousands of girls in dozens of villages appear on the cutting lists every year. Some villages have started to cut infants. The documentary, directed by Giselle Portenier, tracks the activities of the ebullient Rhobi Samwelly, as she offers protection to vulnerable girls. Rhobi runs a pair of safe houses in the Mara region of northern Tanzania. She was forcibly cut herself as a youngster. Her mother had told her that the practice was part of their tradition and could not be avoided.