Saturday, 6 September 2014

Rhobi's Story - why she cares so passionately about #FGM


One woman's personal story about FGM...

Rhobi Samwelly is Tanzania Development Trust's local representative in Mara region and the inspiration and powerhouse behind the Safe House project.

Rhobi's passion for helping girls at risk of Female Genital Mutilation or  FGM is immediately obvious.However I did not at first realise just how personal this campaign is for her.

Rhobi grew up in a small village in Mara. Her father was from the Kurya tribe and her mother Masai.  When she was 11 she remembers a number of girls from the village going off to have FGM and one of them died.  Tradition dictates that if a girl dies during the procedure she cannot be buried, but instead her body is thrown in the bushes to be eaten by wild animals.  Rhobi understandably was very upset by this.

When she was 13 Rhobi was told by her parents it was her time for FGM.   She pleaded with her mother but was told "it is our tradition and you must undergo it"  She was also told that if she didn't comply she would never marry and the family would not be respected in the community.  

Rhobi seriously considered running away but had nowhere to go.  All of her relatives would have supported her parents. She had no option but to go ahead.  Her grandfather had paid for a special circumciser for her from the next village, but she did it slowly and badly and Rhobi lost so much blood she lost consciousness,  Her family and neighbours were all crying and thought she was dying.  They were still too scared of being arrested to take her to a hospital.  Miraculously she pulled through.  Although she was angry with her family she agreed to forgive them if they promised not to cut her sisters, which they did.  

Despite this trauma, Rhobi did very well at school and was awarded a place at a prestigious secondary school.  This didn't stop her grandfather saying "Why do you insist on going to school, you should marry and get your father cows".  Ironically this pressure ceased the following year when he was gored to death by a cow when returning from market.

Rhobi excelled at secondary school and qualified to be a teacher.  When she returned home her parents told her they had arranged her marriage and had already accepted the cows.  She cried for a week but finally felt she had no choice but to go through with the marriage.  She refused to have a ceremony though, as that would have sacrificed a cow and meant she could not have left the marriage in the future without paying it back.

Now, Rhobi and her husband have a daughter of their
own, and she still has battles with her mother in law about inflicting FGM on her.  She tells her that if your daughter has not been cut her father cannot sit with the traditional elders. 

The traditional elders carry great weight in the village.  They meet under a specific tree and no-one else is allowed to pass anywhere near, unless they are summoned.  They dispense justice and punishment and if you deny a charge they will make you drink a truth drug from a skull.  Women can only approach the tree on their knees.

The elders in Maguri village in Serengeti summoned Rhobi to attend.  She said she would not attend the tree but eventually persuaded them to meet her in the school.  They were hostile to her anti FGM advocacy but eventually she managed to persuade them and they are now supportive of her campaign.


December is the cutting season which is why it is so important the Safe House in Mugumu is completed by then,  

You can read more about the campaign here, and come and meet Rhobi when she is speaking at the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday October 15th 


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