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Letting go of bilakoro with zero tolerance for FGM/C

How raising awareness of the damage caused by Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C) can help to end it.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 03 Feb 2023

Three women sell fruit on a shaded pavement in Mali

Fruit vendors on a street in Mali. It’s estimated that 89 per cent of all women in Mali between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone some form of FGM/C | Image credit: Steve Goddard/Tearfund


Contains mention of sexual and gender-based violence that some readers may find upsetting.

Leila* is not bilakoro. In other words, she is not looked down upon in her community in Mali for being an ‘immature woman’. This is because, culturally, where she lives, she has been considered a mature woman ever since she went through female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C). It’s a practice that is considered by many people in Leila’s community as noble and something that protects women against promiscuity. As a result of these beliefs, many women oppose any actions aimed at eradicating the practice.

In fact, until Leila attended a session with our local partner aimed at helping women to understand the damage that FGM/C does on both a personal and a societal level, Leila had been taught to accept that the practice was the right thing to do.

A violation

But FGM/C, in real terms, is not a rite of passage to maturity, but a dangerous, and sometimes fatal, practice that can cause severe bleeding and infections. It can also have lifelong consequences such as infertility, complications in childbirth and an increased risk of newborn deaths.

‘The UN defines FGM/C as ‘an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls…[which] also violates their rights to health, security and physical integrity... and their right to life when the procedure results in death.’

Right to life

‘Despite the harmful consequences of FGM/C on women's health, many continue to do it because of a lack of knowledge,’ explains a member of one of Tearfund’s local partner organisations who works in the town where Leila lives about 500km northwest of the capital city, Bamako. It’s a place known for the high rate of social practices that are harmful to women and young girls – things like FGM/C, gender-based sexual violence, and the deprivation of pregnant and breastfeeding women of certain foods. These all reflect a deep-rooted inequality between the sexes.

Leila doesn’t have children yet, but hopes she will soon. She had planned that any daughters she might have would go through FGM/C, as she did. Leila says, ‘Having already undergone cutting, I was very reluctant about giving up the practice, and for me when a girl is not cut, she is still a bilakoro [immature woman].’

The UN estimates that, globally, around 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone some sort of FGM/C – with 44 million of them being aged 14 or even younger.

Hope for the future generations

Fortunately, Leila was able to attend an awareness session run by Tearfund’s local partner. During these sessions, videos and images are shown and information is given to attendees about the harmful – and potentially fatal – effects of FGM/C.

After taking part, Leila says, ‘I was really shocked. And I knew I was ignorant. As if the images were not enough to convince me, they showed us a video in which a woman was cutting a little girl with a lot of blood.’

She says she realised that FGM/C is ‘truly abominable’ and has decided there is no way she will ever submit any daughter of hers to the practice. Leila is now also quick to tell other women what she has understood about it.

‘Really,’ she says, ‘I give thanks to God because he allowed me to be among the people who had to follow this awareness session and to learn about the things that I did not know.’

Pray with us

    • Pray for women like Leila, who have undergone FGM/C, that they will find healing from any physical, emotional and mental harm they may have suffered as a result.
    • Pray for a change in attitudes and, where necessary, legislation, so that FGM/C will no longer be inflicted on women and girls.
    • Pray for continued strength and courage for the men and women who are working to bring change and to see an end to FGM/C around the world. Ask God that their voices will be heard.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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