Tuesday 28 September 2021
Sidiga Hassabo moved to Tutti Island 18 years ago with her husband.
Tutti Island lies where the two Niles, the Blue Nile and the White Nile, merge to form the River Nile and it is surrounded by Khartoum city, the national capital, and its twin cities; Omdurman and Khartoum North. Sidiga arrived with her husband as newly-weds having grown up in her ancestral land of Shendi in River Nile state. She had very few acquaintances on the island. Over the next few years, she gave birth to six children, three girls with rhyming names and three boys.
As a mother of three girls, she began facing pressure from her family to return to Shendi to cut her daughters. Every year, her extended family would circumcise the next generation of girls during the Eid break. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a lived reality for many girls and women around Sudan, one that also translates into an inter-generational trauma.
Although it is prevalent in many countries in the Horn of Africa, Sudan is one of the most affected with 87 percent of women between 15-49 years old having gone through this process. For many of them, very serious damages of the female organs occurs causing life-time difficulties. Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is targeted at eliminating harmful practices including FGM by the year 2030.
As her daughters were growing, she was receiving phone calls from her family in Shendi telling her to come back with her daughters for a vacation which was a code word for spending time with her family while her daughters would get circumcised along with their cousins.
It was dreadful, but then I came across Mama Egbal and began attending her workshops on FGM and this convinced me that I shouldn’t do this to my daughters, and I began fighting for them
Igbal Mohamed Abbas who is best known as Mama Egbal is nothing short of an icon on the island. In 2004, she registered the Family and Child Friendship Association with other activists to work on the welfare of her community in the island of 21,000 inhabitants. In 2006, she began a campaign against FGM/C on Tutti island.
“We did a mapping on the island and found that FGM rates are at 50 percent and this made us adamant to turn Tutti island into an FGM free-zone and during this mapping, we discovered that some grandmothers are strongly against this practice and decided to work with them,” said Egbal.
Egbal began working with the mothers, the grandmothers, doctors and youth while Sidiga was growing her family.
The work that turned Tutti island into an FGM free neighborhood in 2011 was not easy. Sidiga and other mothers and grandmothers continued to be invited to workshops on this violating practice. The workshops took place in informal sessions that they call “coffee gatherings”. The gatherings would alternate between different homes and Tutti’s cultural club and Mama Igbal and other grandmothers would speak about this harmful process.
“I have to admit that I was first an opponent of this practice, but the workshops changed my mind. We didn’t have a chance to question our positions as we are constantly attending workshops to learn about this practice and understand the different arguments against it,” said Sidiga.
Sidiga had made her decision a few years ago when she decided that her three girls, now 6,12 and 13 will continue to live without harm.
I have to make tough decisions sometimes such as not going back to my town during the vacation because I want to protect my girls from FGM
For now, Tutti island is a safe space for the girls. Her daughters who are in a school band told her that all the members in the band are free from FGM/C.
The small island is a story that is valuable, and its residents hope to inspire other neighborhoods to replicate their success and work with their communities.
The joint FGM programme is generously supported by the governments of Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union.
source: unicef Sudan