Monday, May 20, 2019
Cutting Out Cutting
Diana Sabrina Munoz, Sayler Beck, Gracie Doyle, Clara Harding and Emma Lago—all Amnesty International students at Wood River High School—show the Tostan bracelets they received at the POV Breakfast.
Friday, March 1, 2019


Naima Dido was 9 when her mother staged an unwanted party for her.

Her mother had planned a cutting party for her only daughter, and she had invited the entire community to celebrate.

Dido ran but she was caught. And some of the village women held her down as another began cutting her vagina.

Tostan representatives brought an array of colorful bracelets to the Family of Woman Film Festival, which continues with film showings at 3 and 7 p.m. through Sunday at the Magic Lantern Cinemas.

“Unfortunately, I have a photographic memory and I remember everything, from where the women’s fingers pushed into my shoulders as they held me to the laughter outside, even the smell of the food cooking,” Dido told those assembled at the Family of Women POV Breakfast at the Knob Hill Inn Thursday.

“My father was heartbroken when he came home and found out what my mother had done,” she added. “He knew it was wrong but the social norm wouldn’t let him have a say. He and my mother didn’t talk for three months afterwards.”

There are three different types of cutting, Dido said. One is a partial or total removal of the clitoris. Another involves partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora. The third type involves the narrowing of the vagina with a covering seal formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora.

It can be fraught with complications, including severe pain, shock, hemorrhage, infection and even death.

Naima Dido is now happily married to a guy who even skis Sun Valley.

It can include complications during childbirth, anemia, the formation of cysts, abscesses and scars, incontinence, painful intercourse and increased risk of HIV transmission.

But, Dido said, one woman who suffered pain during menstruation refused to have a doctor open her.

 “My husband has to open it. How else would he know I’m a virgin?” she said.

There’s debate about the reason for cutting, even in the communities where it is practiced, said Barbara Attie and Barbara Goldwater, who made the film “Mrs. Goundo’s Daughter” about a woman seeking asylum in the United States to keep her daughter from being cut back home in Mali.

Tostan gifted the Community Library with these books.

Some say the prophet’s wife did it so all women should do it. Others say it is not rooted in Islam.

 “Every time I look at a little girl I wonder: Were you cut? If you weren’t, how can I help you not be cut? If you were, how can I help you live out the rest of your life?” Dido said.

That said, she has come to realize her mother did it out of love.

“She cut me because she loved me. She wanted me to have a husband and thought I needed to be cut to have a husband.”

She was one of the lucky ones, she said. She doesn’t have physical pain.

“But sometimes I think I’m still in pain,” she said referring to the trauma of the memories. “The smell of the herb they used made me nauseous for a month. I can still smell it at times.”

Currently, 3.6 million girls are at risk around the world every year for cutting, including the United States where cutting takes place among some immigrant communities.

On Senegalese woman described how she was 13 when she was cut: “They remove us from school and   force us to marry, even though it makes us depressed, which could lead to suicide,” she said.

“You become pregnant at a young age, even though your organs are not developed,” said another.

Dido is one of five women in the United States speaking out on cutting. She works with Tostan, an organization, started in 2007 by an American woman to empower those in African communities.

At least, 9,000 communities in eight African countries have abandoned genital cutting because of Tostan’s programs, said Suzanne Bowles, head of the Global Mobilization Team for Tostan.

“Molly Melching, who started Tostan, says ‘Mothers cut daughters out of love. Now they’re not cutting daughters out of love,’ ” she added.

Tostan has set up three-year empowering programs in 3,000 communities. The programs bring everyone together in one room talking through human rights issues. Cutting isn’t even on the agenda in the early going, Bowles said.

Generally, the facilitators—all natives of the country--start with the men, asking them to tell about a time they were discriminated against. This builds a bridge for the men to realize we’re all in this together, she said, and eventually they come to realize women are discriminated against, as well.

The women are encouraged to give their opinions and in time they become leaders. Each village is given a grant with which the women learn skills they can use to provide stability for their families and a safety net for the community.

Women ran for office in record numbers between 2013 and 2016 following the establishment of   empowerment programs in Senegal.

One woman also described how valuable the family planning education had been, Bowles said.

“She said, ‘I learned about the systems of the body. I get my body now.”

Though Dido has become a spokesperson for Tostan, she still can’t bring herself to talk about women’s issues in her parents’ village. And, she said, it is paramount that she protects her own daughter against cutting.

“This is the tenth year I haven’t seen my parents, but as a mother it’s important to me to protect my daughter,” she said. “I never really left my culture. I love my culture but there are certain aspects of it that I do not love.”


Tostan has donated several copies of Aimee Molloy’s book “However Long the Night” to Ketchum’s Community Library.

The book, which features a forward by Melinda and Bill Gates, describes how one woman founded Tostan, a grassroots movement for human rights in Africa.


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