February 6 is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, calling attention to a medically unnecessary and physically and emotionally harmful practice that happens around the globe — including in the United States. Female Genital Mutilation, called FGM, is defined as any and all procedures that involve “altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons,” which can include removal of the clitoris, removal of the labia minora, narrowing the vaginal opening, and more according to the United Nations. Despite the practice being recognized as a violation of human rights, and, in many places, being banned, it’s estimated that at least 200 million girls and women alive right now have undergone it. Sometimes called “the cut,” girls are typically forced to undergo FGM before the age of 15.
Mary Parsae, a young Maasai girl from Kenya, is one of those people. After being rescued once when others found out her father intended to make her undergo the cut, Mary was sent back home, where she was eventually a victim of FGM. She was then rescued again by Maasai Sisters, a Kenyan non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing Maasai girls from female genital mutilation, along with her sister. Mary’s story is now featured in a new short documentary from The Front called Here: Maasai Land, chronicling the work of Maasai Sisters Rescue Center.
Here is Mary’s story in her own words, as given to Teen Vogue.
I am Mary Parsae, a 16-year-old Maasai girl who has been rescued twice by Mom Lucy Itore
My first rescue was in December 2012 and I was in grade 4. My father wanted to take me through the cut, and later marry me off to a man of his choice. I was 9 years old, a baby, but before my father’s eyes, he saw a woman. A woman for marriage. My innocent soul would be exchanged for cattle. Hard to believe.
Life was different in my new school after the rescue. Two different worlds they were, and this one that I was [in] felt like a little heaven. [It felt that way until ]I completed my grade 8 (primary level) when my father persuaded the school administration that he was a changed man and he wouldn’t take me through the cut. They sadly felt for his words and released me.
When I got home, I was warmly welcomed by my siblings and mother. Days turned to nights and things were running smoothly. But on my second day of stay, in wee hours of the night, four women grabbed me and forcefully took me through the cut. The pain was unbearable and I felt like taking a knife and killing myself.
After one week, mom Lucy Itore, Sam Andre, and Greame Agert came to my rescue in my village, one of the farthest villages in the Maasai Savanna, near Amboseli National Park. My candle had been rekindled. There was hope for a good education and a new life.
I requested them to rescue my little sister Monica Simala as well, so that she could get an education and be lucky not to go through the cut. We are now happy, living with Mom Lucy. I am in grade 11 in my high school, and Monica is in grade 2 in a good private school.
I would like to be a doctor when I complete my studies and an anti-FGM activist to speak up for other girls who are at risk of going through the cut and early forced marriage. I would also like to stand up for other girls and not letting any other girl go through what I went through.