However Long The Night isn’t just the story of Molly Melching and Tostan. It’s the story of the amazing men and women of West Africa who are leading social change in their own communities. As we approach the U.N.’s International Day for the Abandonment of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) this Friday, we wanted to share an excerpt from However Long The Night to remind us all that not only is change possible…it’s already happening in communities all over Africa.

Meet Oureye: a former cutter who now advocates for ending #FGC.

By the time Oureye was twenty-one years old, she was the mother of six. She knew before long that the time had come for her to set out to work, as she always knew she would: assuming the role of the traditional cutter. Like the women’s tradition itself, the job was bequeathed from a mother to her daughters, and for generations the women of Oureye’s family had held this important and revered position. Knowing the job would someday be theirs, Oureye and her sisters had begun at a very young age to accompany Kadidiatou on her visits to the surrounding villages—to observe her work and learn, just as generations of women had before them, the precautions to be taken, the prayers to be recited, and the care they needed immediately following the procedure. 

Oureye was paid well for her work. Some days she might cut as many as ten girls and could earn more than forty dollars as well as bars of soap, fabric, and extra razor blades. She was proud of the money she could contribute to the household, and she savored the responsibility she held, the vital role she played in one of the most important moments of a girl’s life. 

But through it all she felt an uneasiness about her work. She never admitted this aloud to anyone, but at times…Oureye couldn’t help but think of what had happened to her own daughter many years earlier, on the day that she was cut. Her daughter bled too much, and they had trouble rousing her. By morning, Oureye had been able to stop the bleeding, but her daughter remained on the mat, sick and weakened, for several days. The memory of that day never left Oureye, and it was made worse by the fact that her daughter never seemed to fully recover. 

As [her daughter] got older, she was often in poor health and seemed weaker and frailer than other girls her age. After she married in her teens, she had excessive hemorrhaging during childbirth. Oureye knew these same ailments were sometimes suffered by other girls she cut. A girl might bleed too much or contract a serious infection in the months following her procedure. This happened despite the fact that Oureye always did her best to be careful, performing the operation with reverence…

These problems troubled Oureye, but she knew they were beyond her control: the work of evil spirits.

At least this is what Oureye had always understood, until…education…arrived in her village, through a program called Tostan. Because of this education, women were somehow finding the courage to speak about the tradition for the first time. And as she had recently come to understand, one group of women from the nearby village of Malicounda Bambara had not only begun to speak about it. 

They had decided to abandon it.

* * *

[Oureye] asked her mother and her four sisters who had remained in the village—and all of whom, like her, had become cutters—to join her in a circle under the tree. 

“I have to tell you something,” Oureye said after they were all seated. She had rehearsed what she wanted to say many times, and yet she struggled to find the best way to begin. But then her words tumbled forward before she could stop them.

“I’ve begun to participate in an education program in Nguerigne Bambara called Tostan, and I’ve learned some things I didn’t know before,” she began. She went on to explain…[that] not only were they learning to read and write, but they now also understood so many things—the importance of vaccinations, how germs are transmitted, financial management, and, most important, the existence of human rights. Oureye spoke of the protections granted to women under the law and about every woman’s right to health and freedom from all forms of violence. 

“As part of this discussion, we’ve been having a long and honest dialogue about the women’s tradition,” she said, registering the flash of surprise on her mother’s face. “The women in a village not far from mine have gone through the same program and have made a brave and exciting decision as a community. They are going to stop cutting their girls. They are going to abandon the tradition.”

She told them about the afternoon when Fatimata, the Tostan facilitator, first spoke of the tradition. What Fatimata spoke about was exactly what had happened to her daughter so many years ago. She had hemorrhaged and her wound had become infected. That was why she had suffered; why, throughout her life, she’d always had problems. 

It was me, Oureye thought. It was because of what I did

As soon as the class was finished, Oureye hurried from the hut to find Mariema Ndiaye, her closest friend in Nguerigne Bambara, feeling heavy under the weight of her shame. She explained to Mariema what Fatimata had said, and as she did, everything seemed to come into perfect focus. Her daughter’s problems, Kadidiatou’s inability to stop the bleeding. What had happened that day wasn’t because of evil spirits.

“Mariema,” she found the courage to say to her friend…“I’ve witnessed the same thing happen to other girls I’ve cut myself.”

She knew what she had to do…After all, she’d always considered herself a woman of peace. In fact, her desire for peace was the organizing principle of her life.

Oureye spent nearly every free moment during the course of the next month [talking to the women in her village.] While it was tiring and trying, she was proud of these efforts.

* * * 

Several weeks later, in November 1997, she was walking down the path in her village, lost in these thoughts, when she heard Mariema calling to her from ahead, motioning her to hurry. “Come on!” Mariema said. “She’s arrived.”

Just then, Oureye heard the sound of Molly’s car approaching. Molly, dressed in a beautiful light-green boubou, stepped out of the car into the sticky November heat and stopped to greet each of the women.

“I’m especially happy you’re here today,” Molly said [to Oureye]. As the cutter, you can offer a unique perspective on the tradition you practice here.”

…“Molly, I’m proud to tell you today that our community has made an important decision. We have been inspired by the courage of the women of Malicounda Bambara. They are our sisters and they have shown us what is possible. To support them, and for the health of our daughters and granddaughters, the village of Nguerigne Bambara has decided to follow suit. A few days ago, the village chief and imam called a meeting of the entire village after the afternoon prayers, and we’ve discussed this as a community. We, too, have decided. We will no longer practice the tradition in our village.”

* * * 

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